Thursday , January 28 2021

30 years after skinheads escaped the deaths of immigrants on Portland Street, the city reflects

As a young man, Nkenge Harmon Johnson remembers that with MAX or a bus in the center of Portland he was careful not to turn over the Pioneer Courthouse Square.

It was in the late eighties or nineties. Harmon Johnson is black.

"It was not safe for me and my friends," said Harmon Johnson, now president and CEO of the Urban League in Portland. "Because the Aryans, the neo-Nazi skinheads, held the court at Pioneer Square. They got down on the stairs and smoked and talked.

Three decades later in the center of the city still do not feel safe for some African Americans.

Harmon Johnson reminds of the recent message he read on the email list – serving sent among friends. She warned her and other black people to stay away that day because proud boys crossed the street. Self-proclaimed western chauvinists who possess weapons have become known for their violent conflicts.

Harmon Johnson is one of the group of activists, community leaders and politicians who think about how Oregon evolved – or not – since Muluget Seraw was killed thirty years ago on Tuesday.

Seraw, a 28-year-old Ethiopian immigrant, was surrounded and killed by a three-skinhead baseball man in Southeast Portland, November 13, 1988.

Urban League Harmon Johnsona in Portland this week organizes a conference at Portland State University focusing on Seraw's death and the Oregon's future. The theme of the conference is "Remember, Learn, Change."


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

The brutality of Seraw's death has shaken many. He was an immigrant who escapes from violence from his country who came here to gain education and lived an American dream when he was attacked for no other reason than a neo-Nazi who did not like who he was.

He was afraid of white people – "there was no way for people to explain it," Harmon Johnson said.

But blacks, Harmon Johnson said, did not look startling because it fits in with the reality of the portals they met through repeated experiences of racial aggression.

Then last year, Harmon Johnson saw the shock again among the whites and less surprise for the minority communities when the police said Jeremy Christian had killed two men in his neck and almost killed one third of the MAX train. Men intervened as the Christian directed a racist and xenophobic soul to two African-American teenagers, say witnesses.

"People say," Oh, my gosh. How could that happen in Portland – not love, progressive Portland, "Harmon Johnson said. "And (we) say …" How do you think this can happen in Portland? "We know this can happen because the white supremacists allow them to wander in a way that is totally inappropriate."

Harmon Johnson cited as an example that Portland police did not arrest a Christian the night before the attack, when an African American woman said she had surrendered hate to blacks, Jews and Muslims and then threatened to kill her and throw the Gatorade plastic bottle on her face . The police responded to the Rose Quarter MAX station, but a Christian left. Later, the police said she disagreed with her female account to identify the Christian as her assailant.

The police said she was not. Harmon Johnson also pointed to the twenty-decade practice of Portland Police Bureau to conduct a list of suspected gang members and affiliates. The Oregon / OregonLive Survey in 2016 revealed that 81 percent of the 359 people on the list of racial or ethnic minorities. Last year, the office eliminated the list under public criticism, but an additional auditor found that the police are keeping a second list of suspected gang members.

Harmon Johnson said police are unfairly focusing on younger, minority people who think they are in the gang, though they have little to watch on the white bands with superior ties.

The same is true of federal powers, ignored by white supremacists in the creation of terrorist lists, she said. The New York Times reported this month that the strategy of antiterroristic government of the federal government for almost 20 years has been almost exclusively targeted at Islamic militants, rather than white supremacists and members of the far right – although killing more people since September 11, 2001, from Islamic or other domestic extremists.

"White supremacists are terrorists," said Harmon Johnson.


Kenneth Mieske, a 23-year-old man who tiredly hit Serawa, was sentenced to life for murder and died in 2011 in 45 years in prison. Co-creator Kyle H. Brewster finished serving for more than 13 years before being released in 2002, and accomplice Steven R. Strasser served for more than a decade before taking him to jail in 1999.

Though he never got shot, the fourth man – Tom Metzger – had to pay for what later he found that the Civil Jury of the District District Court in Multnomah was his role in death. Metzger is the founder of the California White Aryan Resistance Group.

The jury rewarded Seraw's family for $ 12.5 million after making a significant finding that Metzger was indirectly responsible for Seraw's death by sending a recruiter to Portland to teach the local skinhead skinhead East Side White Pride. The jury agreed that Metzger encouraged three members to release the violence against non-white people.

The family eventually gathered a part of the verdict – after Metzger was forced to sell a southern California house – but it was enough to bother Metzger's racist organization and to give her an egg nest for Seraw's ten-year-old son. One of Seraw's civil attorneys, James McElroy, adopted a boy. Today, Seravin's son is a commercial air pilot.

Elden Rosenthal, another lawyer representing the family of Seraw, said that Metzger and his white nationalist attitudes at that time were on the verge – extreme and rare.

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

Rosenthal said he believed President Donald Trump was encouraging the rise of racist rhetoric. Trump came under close constant criticism of his comments on the Latin American states, the Muslim banning of his administration, inviting an immigrant wagon to "invasion" and holding the inconvenience of "building wall" sets.

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

Rosenthal recently read again the transcript of Metzger's final arguments during the civil trial in 1990. He said he was amazed to see much of what Metzger had told laymen to reflect Trump's words and those of his supporters.

Metzger talked about his "beautiful little" California neighborhood as if he was "destroyed" by the "invasion" of Mexicans. Metzger said America was changing upwards. Metzger was worried about the happiness of white, working Americans – and said that many people feel exactly the way he did, Rosenthal said.

"There is an increasing number of white people in this country," Metzger said. "They drop through the grid, they become poorer and poorer and poorer, and do not like what's happening in this country."

Given Trump's political success, Rosenthal announced that he came to admit that such nationalistic attitudes are part of the mainstream segment of society.

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

"This can happen here, it has happened here and it will happen again if we do not educate our children," he said. "The process of progressive civilization is always to be vigilant and always hit it when it comes to your head."


Randy Blazak spent the last three decades studying hate groups and chairing the Oregon Coalition against hate crime. In the midst of calls like Rosenthal for vigilance, Blazak also sees promising events in a state that is predominantly white.

Community members are increasingly willing to talk, said Blazak. After Jeremy Christian was arrested, people kept candlelight and wrote a love and racial composing message at Hollywood MAX, he pointed out.

"The whole community has come out," Blazak said. "This is important for two reasons: it shows the victims that" we may not look like you or pray with you, but we stand with you. "It also sends a message to the perpetrator that" we may look like you, but we "not with you."

Such support indicators have emerged in rural, conservative corners of the state, Blazak said.

He pointed to John Day in 2010 when the Aryan people expressed interest in buying real estate there for a new national headquarters. The Aryan people ended up abandoning the idea after hundreds of people came to the City Hall meeting to express their anger.

"It was so inspirational," Blazak said.

Police in Portland developed plans and training to try to tackle racial profiling and implicit bias, community groups cooperated with police to increase understanding between officers and LGBTQ people and prosecutors accuse people who target others because of their race, gender identity, religion or other differences, he said.

State legislators passed the first national "intimidation" laws of the eighties.

"A part of it is trying to send a message," Blasak said on prosecutors.

In 2017, a white man told the African-American man that he was "in the wrong neighborhood" in northeastern Portland and tried his pitbull. Mathu Karcher, a white man, was sentenced for another degree of intimidation in February and served 16 days in jail.

Also last year, a driver from Portland ran to a pregnant Muslim woman to remove a hijab and then pretended to shoot her and her husband imitating a gun with her fingers. Fredrick Sorrell was sentenced to intimidation in the second instance in August. It was ordered to take wartime watchdogs and have meaningful conversations with members of the Portland Muslim community.

"We will not tolerate anyone in any of the protected classes being attacked – and if we can persecute him, he absolutely wants it," said Brent Weisberg, a spokesman for the State Attorney's Office in Multnomah.

"We always want individuals to get in touch with the police when they think they can be victims of hate crimes," Weisberg said. "That's something that's a priority for our office."

Harmon Johnson Urban League believes that such persecution of people filled with hatred that threaten but does not physically hurt others is an exception, not a rule. Too often, reports are slipping and people stop turning to the police when they are victims, she said.

He described the employee of Urban League, who was threatened by a knife man while screaming in racial crowds. But when an employee called the police, the officers did not investigate, Harmon Johnson said.

"These people are encouraged because they have moved away," Harmon Johnson said. "And many people do not report it because their answer is to think that the police will not do anything about it."

Blond, however, thinks that there has been a noticeable progress after Seraw's death.

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

The Blond, White, spent childhood in the seventies in Georgia before finally settling in the northwest as an adult.

"I grew up in a city where the police and Klan were the same people," Blazak said. "But the change I've seen in my life is encouraged."

Remembering the events

Tuesday, November 13, marks 30 years since Muluget Seraw was killed by a baseball bat in southeast Portland by racist skinheads. The community marks the anniversary in a variety of ways:

The Urban League of Portland sponsors the "Mulugeta Seraw Commemoration Conference" on Tuesday from 9am to 2am. Click here to register.

* Wednesday, 8:50 pm: Discovering the "signs" that will mark the street towers around southeast 31st Avenue and Pine Street, where Seraw died. "Toppers" will be attached to street signs in the immediate vicinity, and show Seraw's photograph and name.

* Wednesday, 02:00: The Portland City Council will be featured with a memo in the memory of Seraw.

– Aimee Green

[email protected]


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