Stunned and saddened, hundreds of people gathered Saturday night to remember the sacrifice of two men who died attempting to protect two teenage girls from an anti-Muslim rant.
Participants urged each other not to let the killings — and the hate that apparently motivated them — drive Oregonians apart.
“What would you do if you were on the MAX? What would you do?” asked John Slaughter, a basketball coach at Portland Community College and a friend of one of the victims.
Three men were stabbed Friday after they confronted a man spouting anti-Muslim rhetoric at two young women on a TriMet MAX train. Rick Best, a 20-year U.S. Army veteran and city of Portland employee, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, a recent Reed College graduate just starting a career in economics, died. Micah David-Cole Fletcher, a Madison High School graduate and Portland State student, was also stabbed but survived.
Portlanders held two vigils in their honor Saturday. The first was on the lawn outside the Hollywood Transit Center, near the spot where the killings occurred. Participants lit candles and stacked flowers and photos of the victims, including some baby pictures. Many in the crowd wept as local activists, elected officials, neighbors and friends spoke. Namkai-Meche’s parents were in the crowd, and a number of speakers embraced his mother after giving up the microphone.
“These men were heroes. They had courage,” said Sharon Maxwell, who lives near the TriMet station. “Thank you to their families. Thank you, thank you, thank you. There are no words tonight that we can even say for the price that they paid.”
The killings have drawn national attention and rocked Portland, a city with an at times ugly racial history. The election of Donald Trump has led to a series of protests and counter-protests, including one on 82nd Avenue a month ago at which the man arrested in the Friday stabbings was seen shouting white power slogans and giving Nazi salutes.
At times, the mood at the Hollywood vigil veered from mournful to angry and back again. Several speakers accused the city of not doing enough to stop hate groups.
“It’s time that the pressure gets put on the people that are supposed to be protecting and serving us, our government, and saying we want these groups treated like terrorists,” one man told the crowd, to loud cheers. “The real war on terrorism is against white terrorism.”
A few participants shouted questions at Mayor Ted Wheeler, asking him what he would do to help. Others attempted to shout down City Commissioner Amanda Fritz with complaints about the Portland Police Bureau as she spoke to the crowd.
“We have to be a community united against hate,” Fritz told the gathering, “and that is very hard to do.”
The second vigil took place in Southwest Portland at the Muslim Education Center. About 400 people filled the community center to break their fast on the first day of Ramadan, the holiest month of the Muslim year, and remember the victims of Friday’s attack.
Local officials, including Wheeler, Portland Police Chief Mike Marshman and Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey told the crowd that this remains a safe and welcoming community and encouraged people to stand up to hatred.
That was a common theme of both events: A fear that Friday’s attacks will embolden hate coupled with a hope that more people will begin speaking out against it.
“Portland, thank you for coming out. But it’s not about putting a sign in your lawn. … It’s not about showing up,” said Slaughter, the basketball coach and friend of Micah Fletcher. “What are you going to do when you leave here? It’s about being better. It’s about checking these chumps, these punks, these thugs, these terrorists. What are you going to do?”