It feels awkward to publish content about bicycling and streets when so many people are hurting and struggling under the weight of current events — especially when those events seem (at first glance) to have nothing to do with transportation.
But look beyond the surface of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the woman who called 911 on Christian Cooper in Central Park this week and it becomes clear that these situations are about something we talk about on here all the time: Safe access to public space.
In the past few weeks BikePortland has been all about public space, providing a platform for discussion of open streets and boosting signals of people calling for more of them. We’ve mentioned equity and racism here and there. Today though, those ideas merit more than a mention.
If the murder of George Floyd and the racist phone call from Amy Cooper were isolated incidents, we’d all feel much different at this moment. But the pattern is so sadly familiar that it’s an inescapable truth that everyone who cares about bicycling, transit, open streets — or whatever your transportation activism persuasion is — must not only learn and absorb what’s happening right now, we must allow it to re-wire our brains and alter our consciousnesses in a way that prevents us from being hosts for the parasite of racism ever again.
It would be easy for me to not post anything about this. It would be easy for us to keep talking about bike infrastructure and bike fun culture (I had planned a post about Pedalpalooza today but a celebratory tone didn’t feel right) without facing these issues head-on. But the rising tide of overt racism in America is not only reason for us to acknowledge its role in transportation activism, it’s a clarion call for us to be more aggressive and proactive about confronting it and tearing it down.
What does this look like? I don’t know yet. One thing I’ve learned about complex issues like racism is that not knowing how to “fix it,” isn’t a justifiable reason to avoid trying. Another thing I’ve learned is how to follow and absorb thoughts and ideas from people like Tamika Butler. In her latest post, Stop Killing Us, she shares five vital questions for white people who want to help: “Do I understand that not being racist isn’t the same as being anti-racist? Why am I so afraid to be brave enough to confront my power and privilege? What am I waiting for to decenter whiteness and realize just because I have never experienced it (or seen the research to prove it) doesn’t mean it isn’t real? What am I doing every single day to force myself to think about racism and white supremacy? What am I doing every single day to stop the killing of black people?”
Understanding racism and its intersection with biking and mobility isn’t my strongest area of expertise (even though I have had some deeply personal experiences with it that have changed me forever). That’s why I don’t post about very often. It’s easy to stick to things I’m comfortable with. But the idea of staying comfortable has been gnawing at me as I watch my news and social media feeds erupt with pain, indignation, and hard truths about the country I live in.
After Donald Trump was elected in November 2016, many people were very afraid of what his rise in power would mean for their lives. We know now that people who don’t live or look like me — a white, cis-gendered man from a stable, middle-income family — had very good reason to be afraid. After the election I shared a message on Twitter that if you have the privilege of being unafraid; you have the responsibility to do fearless work.
I’m sad and sick about America’s racist treatment of black and brown people. I’m aware of how privileged I am to be unafraid in this moment. I’m resolved to use this platform to help those who need it most but are least able or likely to use it.
I see the pain many are going through because of the brutal deaths of black and brown Americans and the daily impacts systemic racism has on public health. It won’t be ignored here. I promise to be even more vigilant and vocal about how racism influences our debates around streets, mobility and and public space. I hope you’ll join me, because the hard work of making a community more open and tolerant can only happen if we support each other.
Below is a series of quotes pulled together for a project called “Seeing & Believing Bike Equity” that was created by Adonia Lugo for the League of American Bicyclists back in 2014. We first shared these quotes when we were reeling from the killing of another unarmed black man named Michael Brown on a street in Ferguson, Missouri. I think (sadly) they remain very relevant today.
Read the quotes, or scroll through the slides via the PDF below…
“The policing of communities of color has always had a large impact on how we get around our communities.”
— Miguel Ramos
“Some of us believe in the free and safe movement of bodies in the environments that they occupy whether it be cycling or other transportation. I am constantly reminded of that when a Black mother tells me: “Every time he goes through my door I pray there isn’t something out there that won’t let him come back.”
— Hamzat Sani
“Cars convey power and that’s something people (cops included) respect.”
— Ira Woodward
“If residents don’t feel safe in a neighborhood in general, how can we possibly encourage them to be more exposed in that neighborhood by biking and walking more?”
— Matthew Palm
“What people can learn is to first question what solidarity means to them and is it the same as how people of color see solidarity? What types of actions manifest as a way to address these systemic issues? And relate it to how they can have these conversations in their own communities. I’m not sure if bikes can play a vital role for every city, but I see the bike as a symbol of autonomy and self-awareness, something that many people that are privileged do not understand.”
— Miguel Ramos
“By allowing communities to self-determine safety issues, we can then prioritize how we move forward and start to frame a message of bikes as being one factor that addresses safety in a community. We must show our solidarity for safe streets and how that is a different experience for each community, and most importantly building that trust and relationship to continue to follow-up with the overall needs of a community.”
— Miguel Ramos
“It’s important for our profession to hear that people of color in the US have good reasons to fear being physically unprotected in our public right-of-way, and to hear that there may be pretty fucking good reasons that people of color feel biking/walking projects should have lower priority than, say, police brutality.”
— Jessica Roberts
“I don’t think we can separate the bicycles from the bodies that ride them. Some of us have bodies that are perceived as inherently more political than others. I was thinking about that as the photos from Ferguson rolled in. There were lots of pictures of young Black men, and I thought: ‘Wow, those guys riding down the street would get a totally different response than I do.'”
— Michelle Swanson
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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Thank you for posting this Jonathan. I think one of the ways that white people implicitly defend racist systems is by making racism it’s own issue and compartmentalizing it away from other issues. This allows white people to justify silence by saying it’s not the issue they are working on. But race is an issue that touches and is affected by almost every other issue. Our systems have been built almost universally to the disadvantage of black and brown people, so every issue is affected by race in some way. Acknowledging how biking and transportation issues include racism and how we can address those issues along with our other goals is a meaningful step toward addressing racism in other areas of society.
I feel the same about climate change. It too touches and is affected by almost every other issue (including racism), and it too is the consequence of seemingly universal societal systems. And it too suffers from compartmentalization, so people are able to say it’s not “their issue”, despite the fact that it will (perhaps severely) impact nearly every human on the planet. And, if the worst does come, I promise you it will make today’s racism issues much much worse.
IMO, we as humans tend to oversimplify our world so that we can wrap our brains around it. As pervasive as racism is, even more pervasive is sexism, ageism, economic and social classism, and various other forms of discrimination. We humans love to discriminate, including to color of our bike frames and parts.
For the 18 years I lived in Portland, my few African-American friends were perpetually worried about run-ins with the police, and some did in fact have well-documented bad experiences. And I believe I came to understand the difference between social, institutional, and personal racism.
When I moved to Greensboro NC about 5 years ago, I discovered how little I really know. In this city, African-Americans and whites both represent about 40% of city residents (the rest are immigrants, refugees, some Vietnamese, Latinx, and a surprising number of migrant workers from Sweden and Japan). I have met many older and wealthier African-Americans (those whose ancestors came to America before 1865, usually as slaves) who see the local police in a completely positive light, as the only effective force to get rid of the pimps, prostitutes, addicts, and drug dealers in their neighborhoods. I have also met many immigrants and refugees from Africa (post 1945) who have had better lives here than in their old homes, who have nothing but praise for the police. I have also met many whites who are homeless or on the margins who daily fear the police, again for good reasons. No doubt the African-Americans I meet are related to my advocacy in my community – I meet the more conservative leadership in the African-American community here, even a few who voted for Trump in 2016 and plan to do so again.
But the history here is also more nuanced. Between 1768, when an English judge declared that the British constitution doesn’t support slavery, and 1783 when the last British troops were pulled out, over 10% of all black slaves (plus the Indian and white slaves) were freed (legally, it should have been all of them, but British control was spotty at best.) Many even served as soldiers on both sides. After the revolution, some of the ex-slaves were re-enslaved, but many managed to remain free, so much so that large parts of Virginia, NC, and Alabama were slave-free prior to the civil war, with black farmers, tradesmen, and merchants. Also in the South, over 90% of whites did not own slaves – most couldn’t afford it, but many others refused to tolerate it. So our society of racism is a bit more complex than I ever imagined it to be growing up in a predominantly white society.
That may be true where you are, but in the cities where I have lived – Minneapolis, Seattle and Portland – there is very deep mistrust of the police among many black people. Even well-off, professional-class black people I know have had a long history of harassment by cops, having repeatedly been pulled over, questioned or otherwise bothered by police in ways that almost never happen to white people.
I will relate one particularly memorable incident: many years ago, when I lived in Seattle, in a triplex where I had my own separate entrance, I came home to find cops standing outside my door. Apparently they responded to a report of a suspicious person lurking there. What actually happened was that my downstairs neighbor, who was black, had come over to (I am not making this up) borrow a cup of sugar. Since I wasn’t home, he ended up standing there for a couple minutes ringing the doorbell, and apparently that was long enough for a neighbor to get suspicious. Fortunately for him, he gave up and went back downstairs before the police arrived.
The neighbor came over afterwards and explained what had happened, apparently genuinely thinking it was the right thing. “I saw an African-American hanging around your porch, so of course I called the police.” She seemed unfazed when I told her that he lived in the building. At the time I was aware enough to recognize this as racist bullshit, but not aware enough to realize how disturbingly often these mini-harassments occur.
“That may be true where you are, but in the cities where I have lived – Minneapolis, Seattle and Portland – there is very deep mistrust of the police among many black people. Even well-off, professional-class black people I know have had a long history of harassment by cops, having repeatedly been pulled over, questioned or otherwise bothered by police in ways that almost never happen to white people.”
I don’t necessarily disagree with you. Our local statistics bear this out: our police dept is 80% white when the whites are 40% of the local population, and the vast majority live outside the community they serve to protect (the ratios are even higher for the fire department.) Most police departments nationwide have a similar or higher ratio. Our police are more likely to pull over black drivers, even after all other things are factored in such as criminal records, broken lights, etc.; even our black officers are statistically more likely to pull over black drivers than white drivers. Our local newspaper no longer publishes pictures of either accused perpetrators nor victims, since over 95% of both are black; if you happen to be white, Greensboro is a remarkably safe community. When our newspaper has photos of private events, galas, and fundraisers, the large smiling groups of VIPs are either entirely black or entirely white, never mixed. The racism runs deep, even in our local black community. It’s only at city-wide downtown events that you see blacks and whites mixing, usually very harmoniously, everyone being nice to each other, and at local schools and universities. And people here are in fact generally nice and friendly with each other.
But again my point is that we are oversimplifying things, which we humans tend to do (and journalists are even more likely to do, no offense Jonathan). Are all police whites? No, but a majority are, often absurdly so. Do all white police officers oppress blacks? No, but all departments have a few bad apples who do, and nasty bad apples they are too, who make all their fellow officers (and city) look bad and racist. Are all victims black? No, but blacks are disproportionately oppressed and discriminated against – the proof is overwhelming. Do all blacks feel oppressed and fearful of police? No, but this varies between locations, socioeconomic groups, and even parts of the country.
I really question the “few bad apples” framing, even though the narrow interpretation of it as saying that only a few officers will ever kill a person of color without justification seems accurate to me.
-The pervasiveness of well-documented, unjustified harassment, assault, and murder of people of color by police officers
-The near-complete lack of response to said incidents by their fellow officers’ unions, management, and DA’s offices
These things lead me to believe that there is a culture of racism that affects substantially more than a few bad apples in most police departments and DA’s offices in the US. Standing by while one’s fellow officer kills someone without justification counts as being a “bad apple” to me. Even not pushing one’s union rep for a strong statement from the union would cause me to question one’s status as a “good apple.”
True, but by implication, the neglect by police to manage their own bad apples extends to their employers as well – the city manager, the city council, and the citizens who elect them. Police departments do not exist in a vacuum – they are extensions of tax payers, for better or for worse, much as county sheriffs reflect those who elect them to their offices. So when we ask ourselves “What am I doing every single day to stop the killing of black people?”, do we also scrutinize who we elect to our city councils, who in turn hire the police chief? Do we own up to the failure of our hired police to protect and serve, or do we blame others?
Absolutely agreed, thank you for pointing out the responsibility of voters and elected officials, and average citizens’ role in all this.
In this context, inaction and bystanderism are actions of the same quality (though not degree of severity) as calling the police on your black neighbor or standing on his neck. The late Howard Zinn put it well when he said “you can’t be neutral on a moving train”. Doing nothing is an action and—in our twisted context—it has an impact. We are each one of us implicated in these absolutely intentional and society-sanctioned miscarriages of justice.
Again, I feel exactly the same way about climate change. The only exception being that I see far more widespread societal support for continuing to pollute compared with sanctioning the extrajudicial killings of unarmed police detainees (for which, frankly, I see none).
Im right there with you. In each case, both system change is needed and meaningful individual action is possible.
In the instance of climate change, I know how to solve the problem, and so I have some idea of how I can contribute to the solution (both on a personal and systemic level). Most of the pressure points are accessible to the public.
In the case of police violence, I have an inkling of what at least part of the solution might look like, but see nothing I can do at a personal level, nor much at the systemic level either, as the pressure points don’t seem accessible to me.
What “meaningful individual action” do you see available to the general public here in Portland?
(And I’ll add that with climate change, even having access to pressure points doesn’t seem to have moved the needle much, so maybe that’s not even the answer.)
A solid question as usual, Hello, Kitty.
The culture that allows discriminatory police brutality (and all other manner of discriminatory practices) to persist rests on a broad base of widespread indifference. The first three levels of the linked-to pyramid are where most people I’ve interacted with in Portland dwell. Nothing overtly racist but the reasoning that underlies these notions about people of color and their plight are the same that power and provide shelter for the more overt racist and discriminatory behavior you see further up the pyramid. Challenging and encouraging friends and family to think about these notions when you encounter them is work everyone can and should be doing. This person-to-person work really really matters. It is especially important for white people to do this work with their peers, because no one else will be able to reach them. Being silent when you notice someone speaking on the basis of one of these notions is a missed opportunity.
As David and Alex have said, there is also being mindful of who you put into office and what you communicate to them once they are there. There are also organizations you can give your time and money to that help to dismantle racist notions and structures.
For climate change, I’m sure we could construct a similar pyramid and at it’s base, providing resources to organizations and interacting person to person would probably be the best thing an individual could do.
Kitty, I’m very much with you on the issue of Climate Change. Have been talking about that (re: transport) for 20yrs. But I also think this is a tangent. There are close parallels btwn racism & climate and pollution affects non-whites much more often. I totally get that. At the same time I feel that bringing it up multiple times distracts from a very raw energy pervading our culture right now.
you make a good point, David, but I also think you discount the power of police unions.
The claim of “pervasive well-document, unjustified harassment, assault, and murder of people of color by police” is not supported by the data.
Something like 100-120 unarmed people are killed by police each year nationwide. 23% of those are black. You can check these figures at the wapo database, but I believe they’re accurate.
Do 20-30 deaths a year really meet the threshold of “pervasive well-documented assault and murder”? Or the claims of “systemic white supremacy”? Especially given that in that same year 60-80 unarmed “whites” will be killed by police?
In any event, this in a nation of 360 million people where 40k die a year in traffic and 100k just died of covid, but there are usually no cell phone videos, and when there are they don’t make it on CNN to inflame self-righteous passions.
If you really care about black lives you’d be better off donating to sickle cell research, or hell even the American Heart Association. I suppose its not as much fun as rioting, but more effective.
RudiV—Your numbers are off by an order of magnitude. And police officers kill the same number of unarmed black people as unarmed white people, which, when we consider there are 6 times more white Americans than black Americans, is an egregious disparity.
If that isn’t reason enough to pay attention, police killings of black people have a similar effect on that community as terrorist attacks or mass shootings have on the populace at large. While the number of people who are killed through those means is small compared to other means like those you mention, the randomness with which the killings occur among the targeted population sows fear throughout it that stops people from feeling safe while participating in public life. Also that these killings are at the hands of those whom society has charged with protecting and serving should make us wonder who is being protected and served.
The numbers aren’t off. You’re linking to every fatal police shooting. Of those shootings, the number where the victim was found to be unarmed is 1/10th of the total or less.
You’re right RudiV. I focused on discussing the first paragraph of your comment and did not carefully read the rest of it. I apologize for responding based off a mischaracterization of your comments.
I feel the rest of my reasoning is sound, including my link supporting the claim that as many unarmed black people are killed as unarmed white people.
We should care about these specific lost black lives because our black neighbors care about them (for reasons I’ve shared throughout this article’s comment section)—whether or not the data you look at is convincing to you. We should care about these specific lost black lives because their loss violates our deepest shared values around fairness—no one has a choice whether they are born black or white yet skin color can predict life outcomes in a way it should not be able to. We can care about black lives lost through police brutality at the same time we care about black lives curtailed by sickle cell anemia or traffic violence. The reason we are talking about it and care about it at BikePortland is that how safe people of color feel in the right of way is directly related to their ability to take advantage of all the infrastructure investments in active transportation we’ve made.
Police violence is the pointy tip of the iceberg of discrimination, today’s most obvious indication that society does not care enough about black lives to rouse itself to stop them from being brutally and unfairly taken. If society can’t acknowledge and act on this most visibly egregious example of discrimination, what hope is there for addressing the more subtle ways in which black americans continue to be disenfranchised? So yes, the absolute number of individuals whose lives are directly impacted by police killings is small, but each time a black person is killed in this manner, black americans everywhere are reminded how little this country values them. The effect is to remind black people of their rightful place in the pecking order. Hope shrivels. The progress since the civil rights era feels minuscule (meanwhile, civil rights-era achievements are being chiseled away).
Thanks for this post. I applaud your goals and I share them. I think our culture makes it far too easy to write off entire classes of people as disposable and beneath caring about. Even if “meritocracy” were perfectly just, this would still be its ugly underbelly, and as construed today its very far from perfectly just. I don’t know what the solution is here, but I do know that I’m done with in this model (the american capitalist default) of valuing people’s “worth”. It’s failures are too brutal and impossible to ignore.
My quibble with the left is less about the goals you’ve outlined than about strategies and tactics for achieving them. As an engineer (I’ve become one of those people that sees everything through the lens of my job) I’ve often built solutions based on my hypothesis about a problem, only to find out that my solution doesn’t work. In those cases you can waste years holding an emotional attachment to your hypothesis and the sunk costs of your wasted effort, or you can go back to your goal, meticulously reduce your assumptions to first principles, then try anew. It’s hard. It hurts. But eventually you come to accept that you’re not going to get where you need to be if you don’t do it.
I feel like that’s what needs to happen with the elaborate hierarchy of relative victim hood that nearly all leftist identity politics are built on. The solutions that flow from it don’t work. They don’t solve the problems they’re designed to solve. They lead to resentment, they divide us all into our own corners where we each nurse our own special wounds while denying everyone else’s. Eventually they lead to the sort of explosive release of frustration that we saw last night. We get a bit of catharsis for a while, then the cycle starts again. How many times do we have to go through this before we’re willing to let go of our cherished assumptions and start with fresh eyes?
Anyway, I guess that’s my point of something like it. This is a weird forum for such a discussion. Thanks again for your thoughtful post. Gonna go ride my bike in the rain.
You’re right—the Oppression Olympics approach serves no one well; people may feel seen, heard, and their plight acknowledged but it can also make us feel separate and less united and therefore less likely to act together in a single direction. This captures the complexity and messiness of us all but makes for difficult politicking and meaningful action.
As a recovering engineer, I can appreciate the dynamic of getting too fixated on a solution because your team is invested in a particular solution or they’ve subscribed to an overly narrow definition of the problem. Big part of why I moved out of the profession.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts about new and better strategies some time down the road. Ride safe!
Thanks for engaging, RudiV.
You escaped!? I’m envious…
Why the heck would anyone downvote Kana’s response?
I think that any information (from sources) regarding skin color and weapons with police shootings should take into account where the information comes from. Many officers plant plastic (or real) guns on their victims before writing a report that claims the person threatened them.
It’s not just about the killings, although that’s the most obvious problem. It’s also the regular, persistent, constant harassment black people are subject to by the police – which is as much as a white-civilian problem as it is a police problem, since it’s usually white people pressuring them to do it. That’s part of how the Central Park incident ties into this, and why I mentioned the incident that happened at my house so many years ago in Seattle. Black people are constantly getting 911 called on them, or police singling them out for harassment.
“It’s usually white civilians pressuring the police to harass black people” is unsupported by any data, unless you measure the problem by those cases shared on Twitter or featured on CNN.
That is not to deny that there is a harassment problem, but I believe the causes are far more complex, including many factors such as poverty, tribalism (as distinct from racism), racism, fear, perceived mutual antagonism, and a tendency among some police officers to escalate as a first resort.
Wait a minute… how are whites 40% of the local population, but then lefties are always going on about how this is the “whitest city in america”? Something doesn’t add up.
…and in fact the US census says that 77.1% of Portland identifies as white.
I was talking about my community, Greensboro NC. I was replying to Glowboy, who was writing about Minneapolis, Portland & Seattle.
David was talking about his own city in citing a 40% figure, not Portland. Portland is indeed close to 80% white.
There is a vigil for George Floyd Tomorrow, Friday June 29th at 6pm in Peninsula Park
Thank you for having the courage and making the commitment to host conversations on these topics, Jonathan.
Thank you for opening discussion on the difficult, pervasive topics of racial justice and spatial justice, Jonathon. Everyone deserves safer streets and how safety is experienced varies across communities. Perspectives that challenge dominant narratives need to be included during decision making processes to produce better outcomes. Salud.
Thank you for this. I’m feeling the same disconnect between my “I love bikes!” brain and the realities of violence and injustice in the world, especially racial violence and injustice. The “I love bikes!” brain has to be situated within the brain and heart that work for streets that genuinely welcome everyone–streets where all of us can show up and come together without fear.
I have to ask this qiestion–are white men as a group fit to be police officers? I am. By the way, whit and male.
Thanks for writing this story Jonathan. I’ve been also trying to point out to people that the killing of George Floyd and the Central Park incident are related, and not just because they occurred on the same day. When Amy Cooper made that 911 call, she emphasized that it was a black man “threatening her life.” She did that because she knew it would provoke a different police response than if it were a white man. She knew it, and everyone knew it. We can all pretend policing is colorblind in this country, but everyone instinctively knows that isn’t the case.
And incidents like this just keep happening. In the many years I lived in Portland we had a number of questionable killings of black people by police, and we’ve had two of them here in the Twin Cities in the five years I’ve lived here. It’s happening everywhere, and it’s happening repeatedly. If anyone here thinks this is about Minneapolis, or that this is an isolated incident and it can’t happen where they live, they still don’t get it. There’s a lot of (justifiable) rage and frustration concealed just beneath the surface, and especially in these tough times it doesn’t take much for it to erupt.
I thought I’d make a separate post about my more immediate observations of what’s going on here. One thing I’d like to mention is that in contrast to the devastation going on in some parts of town, the scene in front of Cup Foods at 38th and Chicago (where the killing occurred) has been more serene. There has been an ongoing vigil and protest going on here, with about 200 people in attendance when I visited by bike this afternoon, and a large memorial with flowers, posters, balloons and mementoes.
Pointedly, there has been no property damage at this location, something I am not seeing reported in the media. The Powderhorn neighborhood has a very long history of peaceful protest, not unlike some inner Southeast Portland neighborhoods except less overwhelmingly white, and people seem pretty determined to keep that corner peaceful.
I’m stunned and saddened by all the devastation on Lake, though. It’s a somewhat low-budget, sometimes seedy stretch of road, maybe a little like 82nd in Portland. But other than the big Target/Cub complex that was on the news it’s mostly lined with dozens of small, quirky, locally-owned businesses, many of them minority-owned to boot. Very disappointing to see all these small businesses destroyed. Many will never recover.
For what it’s worth, I live about 5 miles from where the worst damage occurred last night (and where the 3rd Precinct is now up in flames). Far enough not to be directly affected much, but still we could hear the concussion grenades from one of our bedrooms, and we woke up this morning to find chunks of burned insulation foam (probably from the affordable-housing complex that was under construction, the largest building that burned) all over the place. We have a number of 1-2″ chunks of the stuff in our yard, and there are pieces up to a foot across scattered around the neighborhood. A creepy reminder of the real strife going on.
All right, one more point which I imagine most people here get, but I need to make it anyway. Of the many thousands of people who’ve protested George Floyd’s murder, nearly all were peaceful.
In my advanced middle age I’ve been to a lot of protests over the years, a few of which have turned sour. The pattern is always the same: as evening comes on or the protest is otherwise winding down, a small handful of people – sometimes from among the protestors, but often not – start smashing windows, setting fires, throwing stuff at cops, or whatever else goes wrong. I saw the same thing in Seattle in November 1999: a huge, peaceful march (50,000 people in that instance) followed by a very small number of thugs going around breaking windows, and assaulting any real protesters who dared challenge them.
Our police chief is reporting that a small group of people from out of state instigated most of the destruction last night. I’m hearing anecdotal reports confirming this, also citing a significant number of out-of-state plates on cars at the scene. I take that last part with a grain of salt, as Minnesotans are as fond of blaming their problems on Chicago as Oregonians are on California. Other hypotheses circulating are that this small group was funded by right-wing organizations or instigated by the CIA, and while I find those far-fetched I am not surprised that it was a small group of people.
All of which is to say that it’s important to distinguish between protesters and rioters, because much of the damage was probably not done by protesters at all. The media always love to conflate rioters and protesters, a pattern with which many Portlanders are familiar. Those who wish to discredit the protesters (and there are many who wish to do so) always feed on and amplify this. And those who aren’t as savvy about what’s really going on at the scene – i.e., many amongst the general public – believe it.
I’ve seen the same pattern with Gulf War protests, later Iraq War protests, the Occupy movement, and both Dakota Access and Black Lives Matter protests here in Minnesota. All the bad stuff that happens will get blamed on “protesters” once again, unless we can become aware enough of protest history to stop repeating it.
In the past when Portland would have annual May Day riots downtown, the glass breakers would usually wear masks. With Covid-19, everyone is now encouraged and even often required to wear a mask. Do you think this may have emboldened some of the rioters now more so than in the past?
I’m not sure, but I suspect the mask situation isn’t making much difference. If anything, those looting and starting fires appeared to be wearing masks at a somewhat lower rate than bystanders, and peaceful protesters early in the day.
I know that when I am socially disruptive and destructive of other people’s property, I like to wear a mask as to be sensitive to the health and well-being of others.
That misses my point that the peaceful protesters – who this week have vastly outnumbered those causing destruction – were largely wearing masks.
GB, I was responding to DH. Apologies for any confusion.
“distinguish between protesters and rioters, because much of the damage was probably not done by protesters at all.”
I’m going to have to modify this statement after some of the video I saw last night, where it appeared many bystanders were cheering on the vandalism, which does blur the line. I have not seen that kind of behavior before.
I still think it’s important to recognize that thousands of protesters have done so peacefully this week, including many locations during the day yesterday, and that those people are greater in number. And I hope that will continue to be true.
Well, my community of Greensboro NC finally had a riot too. Protests had been going on for several days, but our police had responded by handing out bottles of water to the protesters, so everything was peaceful until Saturday night (May 30th) when a second set of demonstrators smashed windows of several small struggling businesses downtown, some owned by black entrepreneurs, as well as the historic civil rights museum (site of the first Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins Feb 1 1960) and the county justice center (which is built like a fortress, 1970s brutalist architecture). Later they burned down a mattress store in a white part of town. Naturally, our police are blaming outside left-wing agitators for the violence, based on license plates.
What I find interesting about the incidents related to the rioting is that many of the businesses being attacked are only easy to get to by car, as transit has stopped and moreover doesn’t allow for crowded riding with covid-19 restrictions, and the locations require a large amount of free parking nearby. With the exception of Portland, bicycling in most of these cities isn’t really a good option in urban areas. So the “outside agitators” are relying on cheap gas, cheap parking, and their phones to do these flash mobs.
It’s funny how every official is blaming “out of state” agitators, rather than their own ability and willingness to enforce order. I watched a press conference last night where the governor of MN blamed “white supremacists” and “drug cartels” for the violence in Minneapolis.
It only takes 5m of watching the coverage on any streaming platform or cable channel to see that that’s not true.
You’re right, we (at least among the public) still don’t know that much about who IS behind the destruction. White supremacists, drug cartels, Antifa, white Anarchists, foreign-influenced actors, we don’t know yet.
But even if we don’t know who’s behind it, there’s no question there is a coordinated effort going on, based on accelerant caches found around town, and the number of cars suddenly driving around without license plates.
It may well be that many of the provocateurs are homegrown, rather than “out of state agitators.” But the following story will certainly feed into Minnesotans’ propensity to blame our problems on Illinois!
I appreciate you drawing a clear line between George Floyd and Christian Cooper and calling out the pervasiveness of the problem.
However, awareness of the problem’s pervasiveness and magnitude does not seem to have made it through to the discussion on protesting.
Decrying the methods of protest while agreeing with the ends has long been used to prolong the denial of civil rights to disenfranchised Americans (as they are being denied in this case).
More protesting is not needed to raise awareness; we have much too much evidence (wrongly murdered Americans) and more than enough people know about the issue that change is a possibility. Yet change hasn’t happened (and maybe more importantly, it doesn’t feel like it has happened). These protests are occurring out of frustration for lack of change—a dream deferred too long—perhaps in the hopes that people all over come to more viscerally understand the level of desperation and urgency and finally act to course correct.
Let’s not pretend asking for things nicely has gotten black people very far in America.
And let’s also be clear: burning down the outpost of an institution whose uneven wielding of power makes it little better than a society-sanctioned street gang (I’m talking about the police) that with regularity murders you and yours because society fears you seems neither an overreaction nor senseless—especially when it is so easy for me to picture my own brother or dad’s neck under that knee crying for help with the last of their air as their windpipes are crushed and their souls dim and go dark, finally escaping bondage (free at last). It is nearly unbearable think about. It cracks my heart in half. It makes me cry now to write…to realize that there are no good reasons it wasn’t one of my family members and that there is nothing they nor I can do to protect them and their warm, thoughtful, generous, loving, patient, reverential humanity from it. If you can imagine what that degree of powerlessness and vulnerability feels like, you might see how discussions of how some are choosing to protest in the face of such consistent and longstanding injustice are very much beside the point.
Well, that’s certainly what I’m hearing on the street here: given the lack of progress in the wake of years of mostly peaceful protests, a lot of people seem ready to take it up a notch. I understand the motivation, and “no justice, no peace” is ringing truer than I’ve heard it before. I’m saddened both by ongoing injustice and inequality, and by watching my most beloved part of my city going up in flames.
I do not necessarily see Cooper’s call as racist. Is it because she IDed Mr. Cooper as Afro American? I would do the same thing if I was reporting a crime. Why? Because the first question the 911 operator would ask is ‘Please describe the man’. She was obviously just getting ahead of the operator. And Mr. Cooper’s veiled threat and filming of her would be considered threatening by most women in a physically isolated situation such as this. He is a big guy. Yes, she probably over-reacted in the situation, but it no way justifies her being villified and her life destroyed by the PC police.
Here’s the thing, she did not just call it in (the “crime”).
Amy Cooper told Christian Cooper exactly WHAT she was going to say before she did it. You don’t think there was an implied threat there?
It sounds like she got offended and escalated disproportionately by going racial.
Threatening to call the police on a black person is not dissimilar to brandishing a firearm. What is sickening is that it’s hard to believe she was unaware of this.
I do not believe she was unaware of this. I think she just went nuclear in the situation and resorted to the biggest weapon she had – an implied threat. She could just have easily said a “6’2″ man with binoculars”.
And yes BikePortland downvoters, please tell me—a black man—how I should instead perceive a threat to call the police.
Please consider how you use your downvotes and what that might and might not communicate.
From what I know of the context, there is no other reasonable interpretation for her actions.
Yeah, I’m not sure the downvote feature has been making a positive contribution to any of the conversations here on BP. I’m surprised how many perfectly reasonable, often really helpful, comments end up with lots of downvotes, sometimes more than upvotes. Can I put my downvote on the downvote feature itself? Jonathan said it would be an experiment when it was added. So far I don’t think it’s helpful. If you have something negative to say, have the balls to say it.
I personally view the downvotes as “I’ve read your post and I respectively disagree with you.” I like that people read the posts and give a passive opinion on them, up or down, rather than a snarky remark or ignoring them altogether. And I have noted a vast reduction in snarky remarks in general with this new system (or else Jonathan is doing an exceptional job in not allowing them.)
How then should I be interpreting downvotes in response to my sharing what it is like as a black person to have observed many black people be killed at the hands of police (or white vigilantes) or what it is like to be threatened with a call to the police? What are they objecting to?
I’d much rather explicit engagement through words than a passive and relatively unintelligible downvote—silent disagreement or rejection of…what exactly?
When I get downvotes, and I do get a lot of them, I examine what I’ve written to check my content and my style of writing. I get the most downvotes when I’m mansplaining, which I do far more often than I’d like; when I’m being condescending in my tone, which offends everyone including myself; being didactic and lecturing on morals, which embarrasses me when I do it; talking about the community I lived in for the last 5 years rather than about Portland (where I lived for 17+ years), which confuses readers; and when I wander off to tangents rather than staying on point.
I’ve decided to take downvotes in this context as potentially a positive, an indication that I’m not just “preaching to the choir.” Certainly, it’s a good idea to look at my comment and see if it’s problematic. But, it’s also possible to just have people disagree with me, and that may be better than saying something that’s controversial in wider society, but in a forum where substantially everyone already agrees with me.
I do, however, agree with you, Kana, that people should think about what their downvotes are conveying. In this case especially, given the racial context. I also agree that comments and discussion would mostly be better than downvotes in this instance.
Exactly. As has become too clear lately, that’s a direct threat to his life, and she knew it.
Please elucidate us with what “crime” she was reporting. The gall of a man asking her to follow the established leash laws? She called the police and told them a black man was threatening her, she knew the specter of violence she was wielding.
You need to watch the video. She pointedly made clear she would emphasize his race in the call.
These videos keep appearing, of police not protecting the public from their fellow officers. I’ve seen in Portland that there seems to be a cadre, for lack of a better word, of officers who get either fear or respect from other police for their ability and propensity to use personal violence. Many police are bulked up and they all are armed more heavily than soldiers of decades past, but they do not all generate use of force complaints at the same rate. It’s against the culture (and maybe the training?) of police to interfere with the actions of other officers.
These videos arouse horror and righteous anger but we don’t see videos of paths not taken, opportunities lost, personal growth stunted, because people feared for themselves or their kids to go out the door. Many of us grew up riding our bikes all over town, to the library or down to the river. That’s denied to some. It’s because of fear of a real thing that goes beyond police violence to the mistrust of a neighbor or the brandishing of a phone.
These videos keep appearing.
No point in filing a use-of-force complaint when it will just be found in the officer’s favor and thrown out. Then you’re sure to get at least that much force every time the police interact with you again. When you see a court rule that killing somebody wasn’t using too much force then there’s no more point in filing a complaint.
Update from the front lines here … I took a long ride today to recon the situation today. Also happened to take part in a march downtown with thousands of others, which I didn’t even realize had been planned.
– Businesses are boarding up windows in many parts of town, including the entire length of Lake Street, and many of the office buildings downtown. When I stopped by Cup Foods it was in the process of being boarded, but otherwise undamaged.
– Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are boarded up downtown, as are grocery stores in the Seward, Longfellow, Philips and Powderhorn neighborhoods surrounding the Minnehaha/Lake hot spot, turning all of those areas into food deserts. I’m not hearing of a run on grocery stores in other parts of town, but I fear it may happen.
– Maybe offsetting this a little bit, there is a huge impromptu food-bank operation going on near the scene. I saw hundreds of bags of groceries on the sidewalk in front of a large building, being handed out to all takers. My understanding is a lot of it is fresh produce, too.
– The physical destruction isn’t as obvious outside a seven-block stretch of Lake, where numerous buildings are destroyed and still smoldering. For most of the several miles of Lake Street, businesses are boarded up, but you can’t tell which ones were looted or see any obvious damage other than the boards themselves. An army of volunteers has been out cleaning Lake Street, and there isn’t a spot of glass or other debris in the street anywhere. That’s probably not being reported in the national media.
– There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of people gathered today around the perimeter of the 3rd Precinct exclusion zone (including the Target, Cub Foods, Auto Zone, liquor store, Wendy’s and Arby’s that were attacked) currently being defended by the National Guard and State Patrol. Hopefully tensions will be reduced a bit now that officer Chauvin was arrested and charged with murder today, but even with 8pm curfews starting half an hour from now, I’m not sure people are going to go home. Several Metro Transit buses (which stopped running yesterday – our whole transit system has been shut down, which almost never happens here even with big winter storms) are lined up at the scene, presumably to haul off curfew violators. Not sure what tonight is going to be like, but I don’t have a great feeling about it. They only have an easily defensible perimeter on one side of this zone, and I’m concerned they might resort to force to try to defend it anyway. The Guard personnel are pretty heavily armed.
– Amongst this crowd there are numerous people handing out bottled water, sandwiches, snacks, as well as holding signs variously offering things like free hugs and crisis counseling. The number of kind, generous people who have turned out is heartening. You won’t see that on the news, but you’re hearing it from me.
– Bikes! So many people there on bikes! Lots of people at both the downtown march and the Lake Street scene arrived by bikes, many of them on Nice Ride share bikes. I’ve been disappointed to hear Biketown’s usage has been down so far, particularly since our Nice Ride system doesn’t seem to have taken that much of a hit. I see people out and about on share bikes all the time here, all through the pandemic, and today is no exception.
Tonight’s curfew has been extended to twelve cities plus two entire counties. At least 10 cities have now reported damage from last night. Even in the suburbs a lot of stores, including drugstores and grocery stores that stayed open during the pandemic, are now sheathed in plywood. In other words, half the metro area became a food desert tonight. Sure hope this doesn’t go on too many days or we will have a bigger crisis on our hands.
Well, as you are all finding out as you wake up, things did not go well last night. Mayor Frey has supposed to be directing the National Guard the last two nights, but has effectively been AWOL both evenings when things escalated. They didn’t even appear to be fully doing their charged activity, which was to make things safe for firefighters, due to lack of coordination. Governor Walz has gotten flak for not taking firmer charge, but he has rightly been deferring to the mayor. As far as I’m concerned Frey has been completely lacking in actual leadership, falling back in platitudes instead of making decisions.
And now we have martial law coming today. Not that the military weren’t already here, getting ready, as evidenced by the Black Hawk in the air.
I hope things resolve better in Portland, and I’m sorry to hear of strife in my other fair city. I also hope Wheeler rises above simply screaming “ENOUGH.” Petulance is not going to solve a crisis that runs a lot deeper than many Americans realize.
Also, a very cautionary note that is directly relevant to Portland: as I mentioned earlier there has been a lot of talk about there being a small group of people causing the most of the damage, and who they might be. Yesterday governor Walz dismissed the idea that it was some out of state group, saying “this was Minnesotans. We own this.”
While I commend him for pushing back against that kind of knee jerk xenophobia, I’m still hearing a lot of reports about white-supremacist groups being involved. My wife even saw some guys who fit that profile and looked like they were up to something when she was on Lake Street yesterday. I should have had my own radar up for that, but maybe was too focused on all the positivity I was seeing.
Anyway, keep your eyes peeled for these so-called Patriot types in Portland today. They’re coming.
Glowboy, I for one appreciate your on-the-scene reports, insights and analysis.
From the media video images I’ve seen, as many of the rioters in Minneapolis are white as black (though the lack of detail doesn’t really allow one to tell if any are Latinx, Asian, or any other ethnic or racial group). Many seem to be women as well as men. The Portland videos show that the vast majority of rioters are white, hardly any blacks at all, many women as well as men, and there’s a sort-of party atmosphere among the rioters as they batter down the doors of high-end merchandisers. The running joke of white right-wing nuts wanting their states to reopen so they can access their hair salons seems to apply to left-wing Portland rioters just as much, as they attempt to loot their Apple stores. Kinda depressing really, even beyond the wanton destruction, that our politically-motivated rioters are at heart crass commercial consumers like everyone else…
I would say that amongst both the daytime protesters and the nighttime crowds, it is more or less half and half black and white, plus a fair number of Native Americans (we have the largest urban native community in the country too, and it’s centered a few blocks from Lake Street). The contrast vs. Portland is of course partly because Portland is 80% white, whereas Minneapolis is about 50% white. And yes, I’m seeing nearly as many women there as men. Also many children at the daytime protests. Despite all that’s happened, there is absolutely zero hostility between civilians, and at least during the day it does not feel even slightly unsafe.
If you feel like the news seems depressing, I would really want to reemphasize just how much, despite all the destruction and negativity reported in the media, people are trying to be compassionate and helpful with each other through this. Everyone I’ve seen is genuinely being kind and neighborly to each other – party atmosphere is not quite how I’d put it – and turning out to help each other. Again today, hundreds of people showed up with brooms to clean up central Lake, just like they did yesterday on East Lake. I’m also hearing a lot of reports that although some protesters are cheering on the destruction, at least last night a lot of the protesters actually stopped vandals in the act – over and over and over again – in the absence of any higher authority.
Just today, literally thousands of bags of groceries have been donated and distributed to people who need them, with every grocery store in the city closed. Many people are also displaced, including some of my middle schooler’s classmates. It’s not only because of direct damage, but because power has now been out for more than 24 hours in areas near Lake Street. Can’t exactly have the lights on when power poles have been burned down.
What I really hope for tonight, now that the news is officially out about a small, “tightly controlled” group of troublemakers causing much of the damage, is that the power of the people on the street is able to rein things in, and that we see less wanton waste than the last two nights.
Well, the word here at midnight is that most protesters got the message* and went home by 8:00 (all freeways were closed at 7). The hundreds left got dispersed or otherwise shut down within a couple hours. People in hard-hit neighborhoods like Philips and Longfellow, knowing they wouldn’t get outside help, and often armed with just baseball bats, banded together and kept outsiders off their streets tonight. The peace has largely held.
* two messages: one, please stay off the streets so we can catch the real agitators. two, unlike the last two where-is-the-mayor crapstorm nights, we mean it. And they did. 10,000 National Guard troops this time, as opposed to 700 last night.
One bizarre spectacle: a couple times I saw helicopters hovering over Diamond Lake, in my neighborhood, which I thought was odd since the 5th precinct is 4 miles away. At first I thought it was the Black Hawk I’ve seen circling overhead all afternoon, but then I saw it fly off with a huge water bag dangling from it, and realized it was a firefighting helicopter. At one point the spectacle got even weirder, with two helicopters hovering over the lake: one scooping water, and the other a news chopper filming it.
It’s a much calmer night, and everyone’s relieved. Hopefully the fever has broken here. Here’s wishing the same for Portland. Peace, justice and good night to you all.
They are attention seekers. Nothing more.
Who are the “they” you refer to? The people burning down buildings? Yes, maybe many of them are.
How about the hundreds – I mean literally, in the three digits – of humble people I just witnessed over the last couple hours, armed with brooms cleaning up Lake Street? Are they attention seekers?
The dozens of people handing out free food in front of our beloved Midtown Global Market, and also guarding this most treasured asset in the Powderhorn neighborhood? Are they attention seekers?
The thousands of people I saw marching in the streets from Powderhorn Park to 38th and Chicago this afternoon? Are they nothing more than attention seekers?
I’m disappointed that you would caricaturize people like that, a lot of whom are suffering, and frankly everyone here is at least a little bit traumatized right now. You should know better. If you don’t, then you know nothing.
Don’t really need the lecture, thanks. Pretty easy to see what’s going on and the night is just getting started.
It was both a lecture and a question. You may not want the lecture, but I’d like an answer.
Let’s add thieves to that as well. In an economy already sacked by the CONVID pandemic, a whole lot of folks made off with a lot of “free” goods. But hey, it’s all for justice.
Sorry if you’re having trouble distinguishing between protesters, rioters and thieves. They are not all the same people. I guess the answer to the question I asked (“who are the attention seekers”) is THEM. Because “them” is all you can see.
Greensboro NC had a mattress store burn down. The police blamed rioters, but now the word is that it was an inside job, the owner wanting to collect on insurance and put the blame elsewhere.
Thanks for the post. Please examine the use of cars as weapons during street protests. There’s the Charlottesville car attack, plus many more recent videos of car attacks that could have been tragic. What do the police think? If someone is protesting in the street, is it okay to bump them with your car, threaten to run them over, actually run them over…..If not, why aren’t officials speaking out on this before someone dies?
I’d like more discussion of this too. I’m not aware of any incidents of cars-as-weapons in Minneapolis this time (though we’ve had some ugly cases of it in past protests( but there do seem to be numerous news reports of it happening in various other cities this week.
My favorite (maybe the only?) homage to East Lake Street. We will rebuild. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vd4aLl6A_o4
I guess my response to the four downvotes is: Let ‘Em Say.
Seems to me the subtext of this article is that racism keeps POC from accessing outdoor spaces. In my opinion, this is a very one-sided view of “Safety” and that the claims of fear solely because of racism are greatly exaggerated. One would think, based upon just the statistics of crime, that the true danger to communities of color is the crime within their own communities. But these days exaggerated claims of harm are par for the course to push progressive agendas. Don’t be surprised when folks not brainwashed by the prevalence of this sort of narrative saturation push back. What’s most unfortunate, in my opinion, is that these deceptions reflect poorly on programs and policies that do actually have merit. People will only tolerate so much crying wolf before they start to disbelieve the messenger about most everything else.
The fact is that police use excessive force about equally across ethnicities. The difference in outcomes for communities of color is mostly a matter of there being more crimes in these communities and thus a greater police presence. Knowing this fact, we would craft solutions and policy decisions much differently than we would if we blames the exaggerated narrative of racism. And the solutions would have a better chance of actually changing things for the better in these communities.
I am not discounting that there are individual incidents of harm based upon racism. There are bad people in any group, and the Amy Cooper incident is a case of much intersectional irony given the fact that Mrs. Cooper was attempting to leverage not only her ethnic majority privilege but her female privilege as well (damsel in distress). It’s a toss up about which of these she was attempting to cash in on to the greater extent. You don’t have to be a person of color to understand the advantages that all women have over men in this regard.
To claim that in 2020 that racism is a systemic and institutionalized problem, or that it is in any way shape or form the largest problem for communities of color, is frankly absurd. That there are opportunists who attempt to play these claims up for political and personal gain shouldn’t be surprising, nor should the effectiveness and pervasiveness of these claims be given the level of progressive guilt and self-loathing well documented in the psychological literature. Unfortunately progressives do not seem to understand that their differing standards for their own vs communities of color amount to a very real sort of bigotry; the bigotry of low expectations.
It seems to me that the best thing we can do to encourage cycling in communities other than white is to stop treating them as any different than any other community. We (and the residents therein) should have the same expectations of safety and the same expectations for infrastructure spending. This Critical approach whereby we emphasize DIFFERENCES isn’t going to lead to the sort of ethnic harmony and peaceful communities that we should be expecting. The recent local history of activism steeped in critical theory has done little but impede the sorts of changes that we in the cycling community wish to see for our city; changes that emphasize easy access to safe transportation for everyone.
And here’s what Van Jones had to say…
I am one who down voted your comment. I am commenting simply to say your opinion about the nature of racism in US is wrong. Your facts are suspect and I think probably baseless. I have no hope of changing your mind in this forum, but I also didn’t want your comment to be the last comment and left unchallenged. I urge you to reconsider the narrative you are telling yourself about racism in US.
Thank you, Brent. You wrote what I felt.
While I’m at it, also thanks to GlowBoy for his contributions.
Didn’t you once get accused of being racist? And your response was “I don’t see color”. Which is one of the worst ways to make an apology.
Also, you whined about bikes being the most underserved community while same sex marriage was not nationally legal and you were married.
Stop acting like your shit don’t stink.
Yes I did.
Well sort of. In the crazy whirlwind of that situation I was learning at light-speed in real time. When I mentioned how my generation was taught to not see color I didn’t realize that sharing such a statement in that particular context was a very bad idea. I have learned and changed a lot because of those experiences. In fact I learn from every experience! That’s the point right? Especially as a white dude, life is a constant effort of evolving and maturing and learning.
Have no idea why you always mention this, but if you’re trying to say I think bike advocacy is more important than gay rights or same-sex marriage, you are very wrong and I apologize if I’ve not been more clear about that in the past.
Thanks for the feedback. I can always rely on you to call me out and criticize me can’t I? That’s all you’ve done since you started commenting here in 2013 (under a few different usernames, I might add, which I don’t prefer, but I’ll let slide for now). It’s clear you have major beefs with me, but you’ll find that I’m not afraid to discuss my record on racism or any other topic.
Thanks for the comment.