UPDATE (10:42 p.m. PT) — Protests and demonstrations have rattled Minnesota following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody Monday after a white Minneapolis police officer put his knee into Floyd’s neck for eight minutes during an arrest. The arrest was captured on camera.
Reactions to Floyd’s death have reverberated across the country, including in Oregon.
Multiple vigils took place Friday in the Portland area, as participants asked people to stand in solidarity with Floyd and other black people affected by police violence, brutality and killings.
The Portland chapter of the NAACP held “A Eulogy For Black America” at Terry Schrunk Plaza in downtown Portland. The event was also livestreamed on the group’s Facebook page.
A number of prominent leaders from the Portland black community spoke, as did two rabbis.
Portland poet Emmet Wheatfall opened the ceremony with a piece he wrote called “An Elegy For George Floyd.”
“In a nation striped and cloaked in red, white, and blue,” Wheatfall recited, “George’s life was snuffed out by a white cop wearing his dress duty blue.”
In an interview before the event, Wheatfall said that enough is enough.
“George Floyd is an example of the tradition of destroying the black body in America. It continues and it must stop,” he said.
The event was as much a memorial for Floyd and so many other black Americans who have been killed in racist attacks as it was a call to action for the white community.
“Black people are exhausted by racism,” said Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, as she stood in front of large photos of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Michael Brown. “And what I need today is a commitment from people that don’t look like me, that they will demand that black lives matter.”
The NAACP Portland chapter’s president, Reverend E.D. Mondainé, closed out the event with an impassioned plea to the white community.
“You’re going to have to talk to your aunts and uncles at the dinner table,” he implored. “You’re gonna have to talk to those people that are hard to talk to. You’re gonna have to tell them that you’re racist. And you’re gonna have to do something better. We expect you to do better. We command that you do better. And we know that you can do better.”
The PNW Youth Liberation Front also hosted a vigil at Peninsula Park, which drew huge crowds of demonstrators to North Portland. Many wore masks and spaced out in the large city park.
Protesters marched south on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard toward the Justice Center downtown following the event.
Out of the large crowd of marchers, a small group broke windows and entered the Justice Center. Around 11 p.m., a fire broke out inside the building. Police ordered people to disperse and deployed tear gas.
Shortly after the fire started, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler urged protesters to remain peaceful.
“Portland, this is NOT us. When you destroy our city, you are destroying our community. When you act in violence against each other, you are hurting all of us. How does this honor the legacy of George Floyd? Protest, speak truth, but don’t tear your city apart in the process,” Wheeler wrote in a tweet.
Portland metro area law enforcement agencies released a joint statement Thursday, condemning the “tactics and actions demonstrated in Minneapolis.”
“It is our job to protect life and increase public safety within our communities,” the statement said.
“The incident in Minneapolis does not reflect our value of the sanctity of life or the code of ethics we have sworn to uphold. It is disheartening when the actions of so few tarnish the noble profession that we have dedicated our lives to. We are committed to maintaining and strengthening the trust of our communities who grant us the privilege to serve them.”
The statement was signed by law enforcement leaders from agencies including sheriffs’ offices for Washington, Clackamas and Multnomah counties, the Portland Police Bureau and others.
Portland Police Bureau Chief Jami Resch also sent out a separate statement Thursday. The tactics used by the Minneapolis officers “do not represent our profession’s values and our contrary to our fundamental duty to protect and serve,” she wrote.
Resch said the bureau is reaching out to its community partners and collaborating with its equity team to engage in conversations and strengthen relationships.
“This incident strengthens our resolve to work even harder to earn the trust of our community, especially with persons of color,” Resch said in the statement.
Other community leaders have also weighed in on Floyd’s death.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler issued a statement Friday, stating he stands in solidarity with people grieving Floyd.
“I have spent time this week reflecting on and mourning the murder of Mr. Floyd and what we continue to witness around this nation,” Wheeler said in the statement. “Anti-black racism is what compelled an officer to suffocate an unarmed black man, ignoring him while he pleaded for his life, saying he couldn’t breathe, and then crying out for his mother as he suffered.”
Wheeler urged the city to come together to “work toward healing our communities that have had to live through systemic racism and losing their daughters and sons too early. We have to do better.”
“Enough is enough. Portland, let’s move forward together, and not one step back. We will rise through this stronger together,” Wheeler wrote.
Portland Public Schools Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero issued a statement Thursday that reflected on black people who have been killed in acts of “racist violence,” including Floyd; Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was shot and killed in February while jogging; and Brown, an 18-year-old black man who was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer in 2014.
“As we go into the weekend, I will remember their names and reflect on how we can proactively create the conditions so that every black student at PPS is seen, heard and supported,” Guerrero said in the statement.
Guerrero continued: “We cannot remain neutral about racism. We are ready to stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with our community in the fight against anti-Black racism.”