Organizers have decided to cancel a unity event on Saturday at the Vancouver Mall. The event was supposed to educate and bring attention to violent and racist activity in Vancouver, Washington, but instead was called off due to threats of violence.
Southwest Washington Communities United for Change made the announcement Friday afternoon after an article on the event by Willamette Week garnered several negative comments online. Messages posted on Facebook seemed to misinterpret the gathering as another standoff between the far-right group Patriot Prayer and Antifa counterprotesters. The two groups have violently clashed at several protests in downtown Portland, with the most recent confrontation occurring less than a week ago.
“It seems our message of unity has turned into a stage that could potentially be violent,” organizer Ophelia Noble told OPB by phone. “That is not what we were bringing our children and families to the mall to promote.”
Noble said the event was framed as an opportunity for community members in Southwest Washington to come together and respond to an incident on May 11 at the Vancouver Mall, where an African-American teenager was allegedly assaulted by two members of the right-wing group the Proud Boys. One of those men, Tusitala ‘Tiny’ Toese, is also a prominent member of the Vancouver-based Patriot Prayer.
The United for Change group also wanted to call for accountability from local law enforcement and mall security, who ultimately arrested the teenager and placed him in juvenile detention for three days.
Noble said after reading threatening comments on Facebook, she and the 20 other organizers decided to postpone the event.
“We’re all really disappointed,” said Noble, who believes this would have been the first unity rally organized by Southwest Washington communities of color to stand up against hate and racism. “We were planning something for unity, not for divisiveness or hurt.”
“What we do is more community building and peace unity,” Noble explained. “We just don’t want our message to be lost in what could become violence.”
Southwest Washington Communities United for Change said it will plan on holding the event at a future date.