About 50 people stood on the steps of the Justice Center in downtown Portland on Monday holding “Black Lives Matter” signs, but less than a handful of them were people of color.
The organizers are part of SURJ PDX – Portland’s chapter of the national organization, Showing Up For Racial Justice.
They also held signs with messages that said, “White silence is violence.”
This issue of silence from the white population about racial issues is one of the reasons the group initially formed.
SURJ PDX formed four years ago when a group of white Portlanders decided to educate others about racial issues, white privilege and complacency.
Monday’s short afternoon rally consisted of the group calling for police accountability in the aftermath of the recent deaths of people of color due to police shootings, as well as calling for more white people to stand up as allies.
“Ultimately, what we want to do is talk to white people and organize white people for racial justice broadly,” said Kari Koch, a SURJ PDX volunteer.
“It’s about police violence. It’s about murders in that way. And it’s about generalized, racialized violence that’s happening all across our community,” said Koch.
Koch said that even though police violence against people of color doesn’t occur as frequently as other cities with more “black and brown populations,” Portland has still had several instances.
“I have witnessed racism right here in Portland,” said Koch. “We have black and brown people that have been summarily executed by the police in the streets including: Keaton Otis, Kendra James, James Jahar Perez, to name a few.”
“None of the police officers who were involved in any of those killings have been brought to justice in any way,” said Koch.
SURJ PDX members spoke on the death of Keaton Otis, a 25-year-old African-American man who was killed by Portland police on May 12, 2010.
SURJ PDX said there’s been a vigil on the 12th of every month for Otis since his death. Koch and other SURJ organizers prompted onlookers to attend the upcoming vigil Tuesday at 6 p.m. on NE 6th Avenue and Halsey Street.
Over the weekend, a group of SURJ’s members created posters memorializing people of color killed by police, both in Portland and elsewhere, and went around the city putting them up to raise awareness.
SURJ PDX’s rally was part of a national day of action, with about a dozen other similar events taking place nationwide.