30 years after the skinheads defeated the death of an immigrant on Portland Street, the city is reflected

As a youth, Nkenge Harmon Johnson remembers going off the MAX train or bus in the center of Portland and making sure he does not cross Pioneer Courthouse Square.

It was the late 1980s or 1990s. Harmon Johnson is black.

"It was not safe for me and my friends," said Harmon Johnson, now President and Chief Executive Officer of the Portland City League. "Because the Aryans, the neo-Nazi skinheads, kept the court in Pioneer Square, they moved on the stairs and smoked and talked."

Three decades later, no African American is still safe in the city center.

Harmon Johnson recalls the recent report she read on the email list – sent among friends. She warned her and the other black people to stay away that day because the Proud boys were marching down the street. Self-proclaimed Western Chauvinists, who own a weapon, have become known for their violent confrontation.

Harmon Johnson is part of a group of activists, community leaders and policy makers who are thinking about how Oregon has evolved – or not – since Mulugeta Seraw was murdered thirty years ago on Tuesday.

Seraw, a 28-year-old Ethiopian immigrant, was surrounded and killed by three skinheads on south-eastern Portland Street on November 13, 1988 by a baseball bat death.

Harmon Johnson's Portland City League organizes a conference this week at Portland State University to focus on Seraw's death and the future of Oregon. The theme of the conference is "Do not forget to learn."


What has changed? "Date in the calendar," said Harmon Johnson.

The brutality of Seraw's death shook many. He was an immigrant who had fallen from the violence he had come to get a college education and lived an American dream when he was attacked for another reason than he did not like the neo-Nazis who he is.

It was amazing for the white people – "there was no way people could explain it," Harmon Johnson said.

But the black people, Harmon Johnson said, did not look so overwhelming as it fits in with the reality of Portland, which they know of repeated experiences of racial aggression.

Last year, Harmon Johnson saw a shock between white men and less surprised by minority communities when the police said Jeremy Christian had fatally stabbed two men on his throat and almost killed a third on the MAX train. The men intervened when the Christian controlled the racist and xenophobic imprisonment in two African-American teens, the witnesses said.

"People say," Oh, my God. How could it happen in Portland – not a loving, progressive Portland, "said Harmon Johnson." And (we) will say … "What do you mean, how can it happen in Portland?" We know it can happen, because white supremacists are allowed to roam with free paths that are totally inappropriate. "

Harmon Johnson quoted as an example of the Portland police, who did not burden a Christian before the night before the attack, when an African-American woman said she was delivering a hatred of blacks, Jews and Muslims, then threatened to kill her and throw a plastic bottle full of Gatorade on her face. The police responded to the Rose Quarter MAX Station, but left Christian to leave. Later the police issued a statement that did not agree with a woman's account of identifying a Christian as her attacker.

The police said they did not. Harmon Johnson also pointed to the two-ten-year practice of the Portland Police Police, which led the list of suspected members of gangs and affiliates. The Oregon / OregonLive investigation in 2016 found 81 percent of 359 people on the list were racial or ethnic minorities. The Bureau last year canceled the list under public criticism, but the auditor later found out that the police are leading a second list of suspected gang members.

Harmon Johnson said police are unfairly focused on younger, minority men who think they are in gangs, yet they pay little attention to white gangs with superior ties.

The same applies to federal authorities who ignore white superiors when creating lists of terrorists, he says. The New York Times this month announced that the anti-terrorist strategy of the federal government for almost 20 years has focused almost exclusively on Islamic militants and not on white supremacists and far-right members – even though many more people have been killed since September 11, 2001 than Islamists or others domestic extremists.

"White supremacists are terrorists," said Harmon Johnson.


Kenneth Mieske, the 23-year-old who had been fatally hit by Seraw, was sentenced to life for murder and died in 2011 at the age of 45 while he was imprisoned. Accomplice Kyle H. Brewster finished, who served more than 13 years before his release in 2002, and accomplice Steven R. Strasser served more than ten years before he got out of jail in 1999.

Though he was never prosecuted, the fourth man, Tom Metzger, had to pay for what the Multnomah County Circuit Court later determined to be his role in the death. Metzger was the founder of the California White Aryan Resistance group.

The jury awarded $ 12.5 million to Seraw's family after making the dominant finding that Metzger was vicararily responsible for Seraw's death by sending a recruiter to Portland, a mentor of the East Side White Pride skinhead branch. The jury agreed that Metzger encouraged three members to detect violence in the heavens.

The family eventually gathered a fraction of the verdict – after Metzger was forced to sell its southern California home – but it was enough to cripple Metzger's racist organization and provide an egg nest for a 10-year-old son, Serawa. One of Seraw's civilian lawyers, James McElroy, adopted the boy. Today, Seraw's son is a commercial airline pilot.

Elden Rosenthal, another of the lawyers who represented Seraw's family, said he saw Metzger and his white nationalist views at the time as extreme – rare and rare.

"I just thought he was with this tiny minority of people," said Rosenthal, who lost the members of his Jewish family to the Holocaust. "Now we know it was just the tip of the iceberg."

Rosenthal said he believes President Donald Trump has encouraged an increase in racist rhetoric. Trump has come under an almost constant crisis of criticism for his remarks to Latin American citizens, the Muslim ban on his administration, the invasion of the immigrant caravan, and the holding of shameful "assemblies."

"It's the same message," Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal recently re-read Metzger's transcript of the final arguments during a civil trial in 1990. He said he was astonished to see what Metzger said the jurors apparently reflected the words of Trump and the words of his supporters.

Metzger spoke of his "pretty little" district of California as a "destruction" of the Mexican invasion. Metzger said America is getting worse. Metzger was afraid of the misfortune of white American workers – and he said that many people felt exactly what he had done, Rosenthal explained.

"There is a growing class of white people in this country," Metzger said. "They are falling over the grate, becoming poorer and poorer and poorer, and they do not like what's going on in this country."

Due to the political success of Trump, Rosenthal said he realizes that such nationalist views are part of the main segment of society.

"These things can happen here, in the progressive city of Portland, because there are people like everyone around, and we can not ignore it," said Rosenthal, a lawyer working in Portland.

"It can happen, it happened here and it happens again if we do not educate our children," he said. "It is the task of a progressive civilization to always be on alert and always strike it when it raises her head."


Randy Blažak spent the last three decades in hate group studies and is the chairman of the Oregon Coalition against Hate Crime. In the midst of conversations, like Rosenthal's vigilance, Blažák also sees a promising development in a state that is predominantly white.

Community members are increasingly willing to speak, Blažák said. After Jeremy Christian was arrested, people held light candles and wrote love and racial messages on Hollywood MAX, he noted.

"The whole community came out," Blažák said. "This is important for two reasons: it shows the victims that" we can not look like you or pray with you, but we stand with you. "He also sends a report to the offender that" we may look like you, but we are not with you. "

Such a show of support has appeared in rural, more conservative corners of the state, Blažák said.

He pointed out John Day in 2010, when Aryan people expressed interest in buying real estate there for their new national headquarters. The Aaric nations ended when they left this idea after hundreds of people met in town hall to express their outrage.

"It was so inspiring," Blazak said.

Police in Portland developed plans and training to try to address racial profiling and implicit bias, community groups co-operate with the police to increase understanding between officers and LGBTQ people and prosecutors accuse people who focus on others due to race, gender identity, religion or other differences, he said.

State legislators in the 1980s approved the first "intimidating" state laws.

"Part of it is trying to send a message," Blazak said of the prosecution.

In 2017, a white man told the African-American man that he was "in the wrong neighborhood" in northeastern Portland and tried to destroy pitbull. Mathu Karcher, a white man, was convicted in February of second-degree intimidation and served 16 days in prison.

Also last year, Portland driver cried out to a pregnant Muslim woman to remove her hijab, and then pretended to shoot her and her husband by mimicking her weapon with her fingers. Fredrick Sorrell was convicted in August of second-degree intimidation. He was commissioned to take charge of mass management and had a meaningful discussion with members of the Muslim community in Portland.

"We will not tolerate anyone in the protected class that would be attacked – and if we can prosecute it, it will be absolutely," said Brent Weisberg, spokesman for the Multnomah District Prosecutor's Office.

"We always want individuals to contact law enforcement if they think they could be victims of hate crime," Weisberg said. "This is a priority for our office."

Harmon Johnson of the City League believes that such prosecution of hateful people who threaten but physically harm others is an exception, not a rule. Too often the news is being downloaded and people stop turning to the police when they are victims, she said.

She described an employee in a city league that was threatened by a man with a knife when he cried out racial concerns. But when the employee called the police, the officers failed to investigate, Harmon Johnson said.

"These people are encouraged because they get rid of them," said Harmon Johnson. "And many people are not saying it because their answer is that the police will not do anything about it."

Blažák, however, thinks that there has been significant progress since Seraw's death.

"All these reasons are skeptical," Blazak said. "There is a lot of institutional racism."

Blažák, who is white, spent his childhood in the 1970s in Georgia before finally settling in the northwest as an adult.

"I grew up in a town where the policemen and the clan were the same people," Blažák said. "But the change I've seen in my life encourages me."

Memories of events

Tuesday, November 13, commemorates 30 years since Mulugeta Seraw was assassinated by rocket skinheads with a baseball bat in southeastern Portland. The community marks the anniversary in different ways:

* The Portland City League sponsors the Mulugeta Seraw Commemoration Conference on Tuesday from 9:00 to 14:00. Click here to register.

* Wednesday, 8:50 pm: Revealing "marks" that mark the streets around Southeast 31st Avenue and Pine Street, where Seraw was deadly defeated. "Toppers" will be attached to street signs in the immediate vicinity and will display the photo and name Seraw.

* Wednesday, 2:00 pm: The Portland City Council will be presented with a statement to commemorate Seraw.

– Aimee Green

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