Oregon state Sen. Lew Frederick, a Democrat from Northeast Portland who considered Martin Luther King, Jr. a mentor, knows what it feels like to be racially profiled.
He has told stories of being pulled over in his Irvington neighborhood for simply driving while black and has long been a civil rights champion. When he heard the story of racial slurs being yelled at a high school basketball girls team from Portland recently, he wasn’t surprised.
“We live in a culture, we live in a community, where this kind of thing has happened before, and it will probably happen again,” Frederick said.
On Tuesday morning, the senator shared the story with his fellow lawmakers in Salem: During a women’s basketball game between Parkrose High School and St. Helens High School, three men in the bleachers yelled racist slurs, including the n-word, and made monkey noises toward Parkrose High players.
Frederick said he was told no one — no parents, referees or other students — said anything to the men or urged them to stop.
The men also followed the young women out of the gymnasium as they made their way to the school bus after the games were finished, Frederick said.
“For the young ladies who are going through with this, it’s going to be a struggle for them,” he said later. “… We still have folks who intimidate based on race … The only way we can get that changed is (if we show) that they aren’t allowed to do this and, in fact, we’ll deal with this.”
Since the election of President Donald Trump, organizations that track hate crimes and hateful speech say they have seen an increase.
Some of the basketball players spoke to Fox 12, which first reported the story. They told the television station that it isn’t the first time racial slurs have been hurled at them.
Frederick said he was impressed with the way the young women responded — not with anger in the moment but instead by waiting to speak out against of it in a way that would not escalate the situation.
School officials from both Parkrose School District and St. Helens School District did not return calls for comment.
But Scot Stockwell the superintendent at St. Helens School District did write a letter calling the event inexcusable.
“I am personally mortified and embarrassed by the bigoted actions of those involved,” Stockwell wrote. “It is upsetting that the ignorance of a few reflects on our entire community. If we stand silent in the presence of racism we are culpable. Teaching about diversity is one thing, but teaching how to have a voice against discrimination and take action is another.”
Frederick said he’s hoping to use the example to prompt a broader conversation in the state Legislature about how laws could be crafted to better protect people from what he calls “bias crimes” or race-based intimidation.