Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on August 25th, 2017 at 10:15 am
Maria Cahill has taken her fight against racism to a bike lane in Old Town. As an organizer with Irene’s Circle, a nonprofit that supports families impacted by police violence and hate crimes, it’s just one of the ways she exercises her commitment to justice.
Every day for nearly a month now, Cahill has chalked a message into the protected bike lane on NW 2nd Avenue right outside the Japanese American History Museum. Sometimes she’ll write, “All lives will matter when Black Lives Matter” and other times simply, “Black Lives Matter.”
Portlander John Russell leads free walking tours in downtown Portland. He has seen the chalked message many times — and he’s also noticed that it gets washed away each time. “Who cleans it off each day?” he wrote in a Facebook post yesterday. “A white guy who works for Portland’s Downtown Clean and Safe crew goes out of his way to clean it off. He doesn’t bother with other chalk in the neighborhood. Just this one.”
Downtown Clean & Safe is a private nonprofit that is partially funded by the City of Portland. They also contract with the Portland Business Alliance to provide a variety of cleaning and security services in the downtown retail district. I reached out to the director of Clean & Safe for comment but have yet to hear back.
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“The fact that it keeps being removed is why I keep putting it back right there as my once a day practice.”
— Maria Cahill, Irene’s Circle
For her part, Cahill sees this as just another example of why the work she does is so needed in Portland.
Reached for comment this morning, Cahill told me she’s been chalking “Black Lives Matter” and the names of people killed by police since May. As part of an organized campaign, Cahill and volunteers with Irene’s Circle chalk names of Oregonians of all races killed by police outside the downtown courthouse to target the District Attorney’s offices.
“This particular round of chalking was inspired by my experience attending the MAX stabbing vigil where someone chalked ‘All Lives Matter’,” Cahill shared. “While I can understand why someone would think this, because any compassionate person would recognize that they do, I felt that I needed to chalk Black Lives Matter once a day somewhere in Portland.” She usually chalks on the sidewalk but does this one in the bike lane so it will catch the eye of people riding.
Cahill rides through this bike lane on her way to work nearby will sometimes go back twice-a-day to refresh it. She’s re-chalked it in that same spot about 20 times so far. “The fact that it keeps being removed is why I keep putting it back right there as my once a day practice.”
In comments on the thread started by John Russell on Facebook yesterday, Cahill said she wants to organize a bike ride against racism. A ride that might coincide with the monthly vigil for Keaton Otis, a young black man shot and killed by a Portland Police officer in 2010. Beyond that, Cahill’s considering a chalk-a-thon event in Clean & Safe’s dowtown district. “I’ll buy the chalk,” she says, “I’m totally serious.” If you’d like to help with either event, contact Cahill via email at justice@Irenescircle.org.
UPDATE, 3:12pm: Laura Recko, director of communications for Portland Business Alliance, has provided this statement:
Downtown Clean & Safe’s Homeless-to-Work Program, in partnership with the nonprofit Central City Concern, offers training and mentorship opportunities to workers that are formerly homeless or have other barriers to employment. For more than 20 years, these individuals have provided cleaning services including sidewalk sweeping, graffiti removal, litter and cigarette removal, and pressure washing services in the 213-block business improvement district. In July 2017 alone, cleaning crews removed nearly 4,400 graffiti tags within the district. Crews remove all graffiti, as defined by city code, regardless of content.
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