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Portland’s MAX Murders, the Alt-Right, and the Left’s Response

Tuesday 13 June 2017, by Johanna Brenner

Portland, Oregon became national news, following the May 26 murders on the MAX (the city’s light rail system). The killer, Jeremy Christian, slashed the necks of three white men (one survived) who tried to end his threatening tirade against two black teenage girls, one wearing a hijab.

Shortly after he boarded the train, Christian, who was shirtless and drinking from a wine bag, began spewing racist and Islamophobic slurs. The two young women moved from their seats to stand near the train doors so they could exit at the next station. Micah Fletcher, sitting nearby, rose to confront Christian who shoved him. Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche came to Fletcher’s aid. At that moment, Christian pulled a knife from his pocket and attacked the two men. A third man, Ricky John Best leapt to their defense and was also stabbed. The train pulled into the next station and Christian left, followed by two riders who told the police of his location. Best died at the scene and Namkai-Meche at the hospital. A fourth man, Marcus Knipe, came to Fletcher’s aid, staunching the wound and helping him to calm down to reduce blood loss. Following an operation that included removing jaw bone fragments from his throat, Fletcher survived.

The police arrived and surrounded Christian who was ranting and drinking on a street corner. They waited behind their cars, talking him down until they were able to take him into custody. The two young women left the train at the station and remained unidentified until the next day, when one of them, Destinee Mangum, publicly thanked the heroes who had defended her. The Muslim woman and her family are understandably very reluctant go public, given the string of attacks on Muslim individuals and mosques that have taken place since Trump’s election, not to mention the nationally coordinated June 10 rallies against Sharia Law scheduled for cities across the US, including Portland. (Organizers subsequently cancelled the Portland event.)

The contrast between the way the police handled Christian, a white man holding a 4 inch knife after just assaulting three people, and their trigger-happy responses toward Black suspects, two of three men shot by police just since the beginning of 2017, reveals much about racism in the Portland police force.

Portland Police: A Dark History

On May 10, Transit Police shot and killed Terrell Johnson, a Black man with a box cutter, as he fled across the MAX tracks and non-fatally shot a suicidal white man with two replica guns. In February, 17 year old Quanice Hayes, on his knees after being apprehended as a robbery suspect, was gunned down and killed by officer Andrew Hearst. Activists have dubbed Hearst a “serial killer"—in 2013 he fatally shot a mentally ill man who charged officers with a broken phone—two killings in the course of a seven year career. He has been cleared in both killings and remains on the force.

Portland’s Black community has long struggled with a police force that harbors white supremacists. In 1981, two officers tossed four dead opossums in front of the Burger Barn, a black-owned restaurant in Northeast Portland. They were fired, sparking an angry counter-demonstration as hundreds of cops marched on City Hall. An arbitrator reinstated them, reducing their penalty to a 30 day suspension.

Four years later, in 1985, and in an eerie