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Guest opinion: I’m disturbed by anti-houseless bigotry on BikePortland

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“Commenters on BikePortland used this incident as an excuse to take potshots at our unhoused neighbors.”
— Callie Riley

This was written by Callie Riley, an east Portland resident and longtime community organizer. He wrote this to me via email and gave me permission to post it as an opinion. — Jonathan

I’ve been reading the site since 2007. I’m writing as an East Portland resident, as a cyclist, and as someone who lives near several tent camps along I-205.

When the story on the I-205 “booby trap” was published, I was disturbed – but not surprised, to be honest – to see BikePortland commenters immediately blame houseless campers for this assault.

Literally the first comment on the post linked the two:

One commenter called for mass arrests of the unhoused so that they may be used as slave labor (per Oregon Measure 17) to clean up camps:

Another spread a rumor that the three assailants were unhoused, parroting what I presume is the Montavilla Initiative, a group of individuals in that neighborhood (where I used to reside) who blame every one of Montavilla’s problems on the unhoused:

Another commenter lightly echoes Trumpian rhetoric, arguing that we should “mak[e our] bike path useable again”:

Unfortunately, I could go on at length. Almost uniformly, commenters on BikePortland used this incident as an excuse to take potshots at our unhoused neighbors, which is common in just about any story mentioning 205, camps, or our houseless neighbors. The rhetoric borders on violent. And if you’d only read BikePortland, you’d come away with the clear conclusion that this was a case of unhoused individuals attacking a cyclist at random.

And then I read the Oregonian’s update about the assault this morning. What jumped out at me was the following:

The three assailants in this case were apparently attempting to harass unhoused campers. That suggests that Carlene Ostedgaard’s assault was a direct result of the same animus toward the unhoused that of your commenters share. It’s doubly disturbing, then, that BikePortland commenters chose to slander unhoused campers when they were the intended victims of this crime, and that there was precious little pushback to that narrative. You yourself have written many times about the ways in which violent rhetoric toward vulnerable road users can manifest in violent and unsafe behavior toward us, and I ask that you apply that same analysis to what your commenters are saying about the houseless.

I ask that you publish an update to that story, and perhaps use that update to reflect on why BikePortland is such a hotbed for aggressive rhetoric toward our unhoused neighbors; you could talk to folks like Street Roots, Right 2 Dream Too, or Dignity Village to get their impressions. If you’re unwilling or unable to do so, I ask that you print this email in full as an op-ed to BikePortland, as a counterpoint toward your commenters’ violent attitudes toward some of the most marginalized Portlanders.

Cheers and solidarity,



UPDATE, 5:34 pm: I have blurred out the names of the commenters. Also, I want everyone to know that my intent in posting this was to show the community how the comments on the previous post were being heard by some people. I realize that some readers don’t appreciate that I’ve elevated Mr. Riley’s comments to the Front Page in this manner.

Please understand this is an extremely difficult topic to moderate (especially in 2018). I’m trying to move the conversation forward and I regret if this post set things back. I believe we need to be able to hear different perspectives and that more conversation is always better. Thank you. — Jonathan

UPDATE: Don’t miss our latest story on the incident where I’ve reported an update from the DA’s office:

“When asked why they had put the string across the pathway… said they wanted to harass the transients in the area. Officer Miller spoke to suspects who said they wanted to “fuck with the homeless“ because “we don’t want them around here.”

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