In the warm late-night hours of May 25,in Portland, Oregon, not far from the banks of the Willamette River, Sam Thompson approached the door of a club called Dirty — a Portland hotspot for dancing on tables, drinking cocktails and being seen in a district that overflows with clubs just like it.
Thompson, a tall, black, bearded Portland native with a big smile who moonlights as a comedian and show promoter, was there to host a birthday party. Thompson was dressed casually: jeans, red Kobe Bryants and a red crewneck sweatshirt by Black Mannequin, a local clothing company. Thompson was baffled: He was supposed to be working at the bar he was trying to get into, and he wondered exactly what gang recruits members like him: a friendly father edging toward 40 who gets up early for work. He pulled a business card from his wallet. More Dirty security guards gathered around the pair, backing up Monroe.
By this time, Thompson was furious. Tired of getting racially profiled in Portland, Oregon. A week later, a white friend sent Thompson a picture from inside another Portland nightclub. Thompson laughed when he got the message; it validated everything he thought about clubs in the city. At any other time, he might have just brushed the incident — and the photo — off. He knew what Portland was, always had been and probably always would be.
But looking at it felt different now — it felt like proof. These incidents are all ripples stemming from the day that Oregon entered the United States. The state was founded on the openly stated premise that it would be a haven for white — and only white — settlers.
Take, for example, some recent headlines about the city: In December, a black man staying at a Portland hotel was evicted after he sat down in the lobby to call his mother — an incident that caught the attention of national media. Days later, video surfaced of a white woman in an Oregon city threatening a black family with a knife and hurling racial slurs at them after they parked crookedly.
In January, police fatally shot a blind black man who had schizophrenia — one of four people of color killed by police since in the city. Just before p. He walked away as Portland police were questioning the woman about the incident.
On the night of May 26, Christian, according to witnesses, hurled a racist screed at two teenage girls on the train — both people of color, one wearing a hijab. Several male passengers confronted him. In response, Christian is accused of pulling a knife from his pocket, stabbing two of the men in the neck, killing them, and slashing at the throat of another, who survived.
In the days after, a vast memorial of prayer candles and chalk-drawn sympathy notes blanketed the train stop.
A paper note lay in a pile of wilting red and orange flowers. The law was very clear on the subject.
A reckoning is coming for oregon’s white supremacist past.
Early politicians in Portland built a place that was nothing like the East Coast cities they had come from. Those landowners passed the profits on to their children, by paying for college, by investing, by building political influence. In the s, the Ku Klux Klan had a stronghold in Oregon, pushing political candidates into the role of governor and posing for photos with leaders of the Portland Police Department.
Though the 15th Amendment to the U. Constitution, which gave black men the right to vote, was ratified inOregon refused to ratify it for 89 more years. Blacks in Oregon were not formally granted the vote until In the s, black-owned nightclubs became a particular focal point for oppressive policing.
On Dec. That continues today, in cases like that of Rodney DeWalt — the owner of Le Fontaine Bleau, a club located just a couple of blocks from where the Dude Ranch stood decades ago. In a complaint against the city and members of the Portland Police Department, DeWalt said the city, the liquor commission and the police tried to connect his club to gang activity. He received a shutdown order after a shooting occurred outside the club after it had closed for the night. The decision to issue an emergency shutdown was made by several parties, including Capt.
Mark Kruger — a Portland Police officer who is perhaps best known for wearing Nazi memorabilia and nailing a memorial plaque honoring Nazi officers to a tree in a public park. He remains on the force. When she ran for City Council, she focused on the disparate outcomes for communities of color — unequal treatment that could be proven with statistics and s.
She points to low rates of home ownership by black Portlanders, the high suspension rate of black students, and the lack of affordable housing. Ever since the mids, blacks had been segregated to single neighborhoods.
Then, in the mids, those communities were displaced to accommodate new development. Merrithew is also representing DeWalt, the owner of Le Fontaine Bleau, as well as Donna Thames, who owned a strip club called Exotica from to The building was painted bright blue and silver, the colors of Grant High School in northeast Portland. But two months after opening, Thompson started hearing from police that they considered his bar to be a gang hangout, largely because of the blue building.
The color, they said, was associated with the Crips. He chose beige to assuage any concerns that it was a place for gang members. From the day it opened, the police paid close attention to the place.
And even though Thompson argued that the fight had nothing to do with his bar, he was slapped with a list of restrictions he had to abide by in order to keep his liquorfrom closing at 11 p. The irony of being accused, on the one hand, of owning a Crip bar and then being blocked from another for supposedly wearing Blood paraphernalia did not escape Merrithew.
And it was at a time when, like, the childhood poverty rate in this state was 25 percent. Hayes was carrying a fake gun. And then, like, the idea of making a joke out of the fact that Portland is a very white city? But when High Country News attempted to track down the author of the document, the Portland Police, the city of Portland and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission all sidestepped responsibility. The Liquor Control Commission, too, seemed confused. When reached for comment, a member of the Tactical Operations Division at the Portland Police — which commands the Gang Enforcement Team — said gang colors are, in fact, not a good indicator of gang affiliation.
Michael Leasure, who has been with the department for 18 years, told me in November. When asked later about the educational program that Monroe said Portland Police conducted, which allegedly informed bouncers about dress codes restricting gang colors, Leasure waffled. The National Gang Center does, in fact, consider colors and tattoos to be one of several indicators of gang membership. But police officers across the country, from Connecticut to Los Angeles, say gangs now avoid wearing matching colors, mainly to evade detection. Tyrone Sellers, who worked security at Couture, a now-defunct nightclub located next to Dirty, said the police instructed security at Old Town clubs to watch out for gang colors and prohibit people wearing too much of the same color from entering.
In a declaration filed with the court, Artie Haws, a former bartender at Dirty, said Lenahan told staff members to limit the ratio of black and African-American people at his clubs. When asked if the Portland Police still instructs nightclub staff to watch out for colors as an indicator of gang membership, Sgt. Christopher Burley, public information officer, sidestepped the question. Lenahan and his attorneys did not return repeated requests for comment.
A flood washed away the wwii housing project vanport—but its history still informs portland’s diversity
On a Friday night in early November, Thompson sipped a beer in a in a neon-lit East Portland sports bar. But on this night he was wearing the usual: a red hoodie and jeans.
Across from him, another one of his friends also wore a red sweatshirt. The lawsuit against the Dirty is still in progress, with a motion for punitive damages pending and the discovery process underway.
Built on exclusion
In the year since Thompson was blocked from entering Dirty — the year since the murders on the train — the city continues to boil. Last summer, hundreds of protesters gathered to face off with Patriot Prayer, the same right-wing group Jeremy Christian marched with a month before the train attack.
After hours of protest, police rocketed a barrage of crowd control devices at the protesters, but formed a tight barrier around Patriot Prayer, who cheered as munitions were deployed at their detractors. I have a platform. Being black in Portland, he said, is like finding a safe path through a minefield: You move carefully. You stay quiet. He wants to live without fear. He insists that he will open a bar again and paint it any color he desires. He wants to wear whatever sweatshirt and sneakers he wants to a club like Dirty. To stay up late and wake up for work in the morning early, tired but happy.
To ride a train.