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Portland Attack: A Call to Action

Portland Attack: A Call to Action

Picture of memorial for people stabbed in Portland hate crime

On May 26, 2017, hatred manifested itself in its most brutal form. During a train ride in Portland, Oregon, a known white supremacist began an anti-Muslim tirade against two girls, one of whom was wearing a hijab. When brave upstanders stepped in to protect the victims of the attack and deescalate the situation, the aggressor reacted violently, viciously stabbing the three people who intervened. While Taliesin Namkai Meche and Ricky Best tragically lost their lives as a result of the stabbing, their heroism and compassion will live on.

The horrific attack is a tragic reminder that acts of hate are on the rise in the United States. As reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of anti-Muslim groups rose 197% in 2016. The rhetoric spewed by the attacker in Portland aligns with the “patriot” group segment of the “alt-right” movement. These groups wrongly believe that their free speech is stifled when others embrace diversity and promote inclusion, and feel threatened by an increasingly multicultural America.

Many have pointed out that, although known for its progressive politics, Portland has not had a good track record on racial justice and diversity. Oregon entered the union as the first and only state to legally exclude the presence of African-Americans. The state refused to ratify the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments, providing citizenship to black Americans and granting black men the right to vote respectively, until almost 100 years after these amendments were introduced.

There are still challenges in Oregon, and with the rest of the country, in eradicating hate. A recent report on hate crime data found that Oregon has the highest number of reported bias incidences in the country. Even in more diverse areas than Portland, economic and racial injustice creates segregation that impedes the transformational relationships necessary to build understanding.

We as Reform Jews have an obligation to battle injustice in all its forms, from combatting the growing forces of organized hate to reforming the institutions perpetuate inequality. But change can only be made when we understand our position in society and leverage it effectively. We must recognize that while we have seen anti-Semitism on the rise, many of us do not face the same concrete danger that other groups do every day. Especially in North America, many in the Jewish community enjoy significant economic advantages, and many Jews have white privilege that might not render them as vulnerable.

We know what it’s like to be the outsider group, however. Countless times in our collective history, we have faced the systematic exclusion and violence that other groups are feeling right now.  When we partner with vulnerable communities, we must come with an understanding of our own privileges, and with a readiness to transform them in the fight for change. But we must come too with yearning for justice that acknowledges all our complex Jewish history.

The RAC has joined a historic coalition of diverse national organizations and neighborhood groups, led by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Southern Policy Law Center, in Communities Against Hate. Communities Against Hate seeks to document stories and respond to incidents of violence, threats and property damage motivated by hate in the United States. It provides a safe place for survivors and witnesses to share stories of hate incidents through our online database and telephone hotline and connects survivors and witnesses to legal resources and social services. If you hear about an incident in your community please take a couple of minutes and add it to the database or call the hotline at 1-844-9-NO-HATE.

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Noah Kline is a high school intern at the RAC. He served as the Western Membership Vice President of NFTY-MAR and will be attending Wesleyan University next year. He is from Arlington, Virginia and is a member of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church.

Published: 6/20/2017

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