At least 20 community activists and independent journalists associated with the Portland racial justice protests have been targeted this week with a “kill list”, anonymous letters containing their names and a racist cover.
The note, scribbled on a notebook sheet, listed several activists and journalists who have played an important role in the protests of recent months, as well as active in local politics. Most of the people listed are people of color, including many black Portlanders.
The note warned people to stop holding protests in Vancouver, the site of recent protests against the filming of Kevin Peterson Jr., a 21-year-old black man killed by Clark County Sheriff’s deputies in late October.
Candace Avalos, activist and former Portland city council candidate, posted the note on Twitter on Wednesday. It was the second racist note she received in a week. Both notes appeared to have been sent by the same person, the second referring to comments made by local activist and freelance journalist Mac Smiff regarding the author of the first letter.
The memo continued to make several direct threats against Smiff, who said he had already received death threats.
“When the letter was first read to me, I really felt a physical reaction,” Smiff said. “But at the end of the day, to me, it seems like a person desperate to get attention. The fact that I would skyrocket to number one on their results list based on a Twitter comment tells me that I don’t need to worry too much about this. And here we stay ready.
KOIN-TV News Presenter Ken Boddie also received a racist note earlier this week, to whom he addressed himself directly in a message to the public. It is not clear whether the note to Boddie, who is Black, was sent by the same person.
Avalos said during a phone call with The Oregonian / OregonLive that his first reaction was fear, then anger.
“I don’t deserve this. People don’t deserve this,” she said. “I know what I’m trying to do is create a safe and progressive community for everyone. To be targeted by this way of doing this job is maddening.
Avalos, who is black and Latin, said she had always been aware that being a public figure, especially a woman of color, she could be subjected to such attacks – but it’s shocking when it really happens. .
She reported the messages to police, as well as the Justice Department’s bias crime reporting process, Portland United Against Hate, and the U.S. Postal Service’s Inspectorate.
Gregory McKelvey, an activist from Portland who led the campaign for mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone, was among those named in the memo. He said this is one of the many threats he has received in recent years. He echoed Avalos’ concerns that the work of community activists is difficult and risky, especially for black, brunette or gay people.
He blamed the inflammatory rhetoric of national and local leaders for creating an environment conducive to racist attacks.
Olivia Katbi Smith, co-chair of the Portland Democratic Socialists of America, was also identified on the list.
“These threats of increasing violence from the far right are unfortunately exactly what we expected in the aftermath of the election, and that is exactly why the work neither begins nor ends at the polls,” he said. she declared. “Their threats will not deter us from working for a better world, but will only serve to strengthen our sense of determination and community. “
The office of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said Thursday the Portland Police Department was working with the FBI to investigate the threat.
Robert King, the police liaison for the mayor’s office, said they were investigating two letters. The police are trying to contact everyone listed to alert them.
“We want to make sure the community knows that it is taken very seriously and that it is fully investigated,” he said.
But for some of those who received the threat, the involvement of the police is even more alarming.
“I obviously understand that there is mistrust,” Avalos said. “I contacted as many people as possible and wanted to make sure they were aware. I said, I pointed it out, if you want me to, or if you want a connection, I’m happy to offer it to you.
Avalos is the chairman of the Citizen Review Committee, a group that advises the city’s Independent Police Review (IPR) on reported misconduct and other law enforcement matters. She said members of IPR contacted her after receiving threats to offer her support.
But she said she realizes that not all of those targeted are comfortable with police involvement.
“I’m really less concerned with how they treated us, and more with how they treated people who would be on their side,” Smiff said, noting that the list contained high-ranking officials. “I received homemade bombs thrown at me in the street, I was sprayed with pepper, macerated in the sight of the police. I guess they won’t help here either.
Not everyone received the note directly in the mail. Demetria Hester, who runs Moms United for Black Lives, only found out after Avalos contacted them to let her know she was identified on the list.
Hester said she had already taken several precautions for her own safety, and said the police involvement was even more troubling to her, given their history with the protesters.
“It would be different if they did what they’re supposed to do – protect and serve,” she said. “They are not going to protect us, we are going to protect ourselves.”
Smiff said this involved taking security measures and conducting his own investigations to determine who was making the threats.
McKelvey said he would feel just as dangerous seeing the person who wrote the letter on his door as he would seeing an armed police officer.
He also placed partial responsibility on the mayor and the police.
“The mayor demonized the protesters both in his capacity as mayor and in his campaign,” he said. “The Portland police beat these same people. Many of these people are in court against the Portland Police Department or the City of Portland. “
In a note written to The Oregonian / OregonLive, Wheeler said he had been consistent in his condemnation of all kinds of violence and had assigned a staff member to investigate the “outrageous and disturbing threats.”
“I understand that a lot of people don’t feel safe working with law enforcement,” he said. “This is why I co-defended the recently adopted police accountability measure, prohibits the use of tear gas for crowd control required registered consent for searches and why I continue to work hard on further reforms. I reached out and my team reached out. I respect everyone’s right to demonstrate peacefully and to decide for themselves whether or not to report threats.
Wheeler announced a tear gas ban after more than 100 days of protests, in which the police repeatedly deployed CS gas on crowds of protesters.
Avalos said the desire and right to be protected had nothing to do with a person’s perspective on policing – the protesters, many of whom were targeted in the memo, called for funding or drastic reform of the Portland police station.
“People who troll saying ‘oh now you wanna call the police’, I want people to understand,” Avalos said. “We’re not saying that when we need help we don’t want someone on the other end of the phone. We deserve that when we call the police they don’t make it worse and we end up dying. “
“We are over-policed and under-protected as a community,” she said. “That’s what hurts.”
Avalos said the impact of the letter continued to weigh on her.
“I’m still dealing with what this means for my future,” she said. “I want to be safe. Everyone wants to be safe. But it’s so overwhelming that we continue to feel such hatred and threats against our lives that we want our lives to matter. It is not an unreasonable request.
– Jayati Ramakrishnan; 503-221-4320; [email protected]; @JRamakrishnanOR