Judith Armatta

Judith Armatta is a lawyer, journalist and human rights activist

"You Are Not Wanted Here"

Portland, Oregon is the whitest city of its size in the United States. I want to deny living there. It feels shameful even though I did not choose it because of its whiteness. I am third generation Oregonian. My friends and family are here. I love the giant firs, the rivers that bisect the city, the easy access to the ocean and mountains, Powell’s Books. I hate its lack of diversity and the racism that lies at its root: Oregon’s original sin.

When Oregon was on the verge of statehood, granted in 1859, it was divided between those who wanted to allow slavery and those who did not. The compromise was to prohibit slavery (and thus competition from people using free labor), but also to prohibit African Americans from residing in the state. While this was not enforced, it sent a powerful message: “If you are African American, you are not wanted here.”

“Delegates to Oregon's constitutional convention submitted an exclusion clause to voters on November 7, 1857, along with a proposal to legalize slavery. Voters disapproved of slavery by a wide margin, ensuring that Oregon would be a free state, and approved the exclusion clause by a wide margin. Incorporated into the Bill of Rights, the clause prohibited blacks from being in the state, owning property, and making contracts. Oregon thus became the only free state admitted to the Union with an exclusion clause in its constitution. [emphasis added] Gregory Nokes.

The constitutional exclusion remained until 1926. Other racist language in the constitution was not removed until 2002. Oregon originally ratified the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but within a few years rescinded its ratification and did not correct it until 1973. The state resisted ratifying the 15th Amendment (Voting Rights) until 1959.

The reverse side of racial exclusion is that white people were drawn to Oregon because of its whiteness. I don’t know, but I pray that my ancestors weren’t part of this diaspora. It’s quite possible they were. This is our shameful legacy. It is why white supremacists feel more at home here than African Americans. It is why black people make up only 2% of Oregon’s population and 9.3% of its prison population.

“In 1850, the U.S. Congress passed the Oregon Donation Land Act, a piece of legislation designed to promote White settlement in the Oregon Territory by expropriating Native American land and giving it to Whites for free, causing a population boom of White settlers of 300 percent. The move to Oregon for many White settlers was motivated by a desire to create an all-White society free from the racial tensions brewing before the start of the American Civil War. The first steps taken to create this all-White society involved bloody battles against Native American peoples and their eventual compulsory removal from their land.” [citations omitted]

Oregon in the 1920’s had the highest population of Ku Klux Klan members in the U.S. They can be seen posing for photographs with Portland’s officials. Another photo shows the KKK with members of the Royal Riders of the Red Robe, a Klan auxiliary of foreign born Protestants. The Klan’s philosophy is evident in its motto: “’100 percent Americanism,’ an ideology that developed during World War I as a reaction to the perceived threat to national unity posed by the influx of non-Protestant, non-English-speaking immigrants.” Sound familiar?

In 1988, three men associated with White Aryan Resistance (WAR) beat Mulegeta Seraw, an Ethiopian student, to death on a Portland street. The Southern Poverty Law Center sued Tom Metzger, head of WAR, his son, and WAR for incitement of murder. An Oregon jury returned a $12.5 million verdict in favor of the estate of Mr. Seraw, despite Metzger’s defense that he was merely exercising his First Amendment Rights. The verdict bankrupted WAR.

In more recent years (with the election of a black president, followed by the hate-filled rhetoric of a bigoted president), we’ve seen the rise of white militias (such as the Oath Keepers, active in Oregon), white supremacist, and white separatist groups. The number of anti-Muslim organizations in the U.S. grew from 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. A report by the Council for American-Islamic Relations found that hate crimes targeting Muslims surged 584 percent from 2014 to 2016.

Once on the fringe, these hate groups now march in Portland streets and propagandize and proselytize on the internet. Prisons, too, are a breeding ground for white supremacist gangs, and Oregon, like the rest of the country, has grotesquely expanded the number of people we lock up. Jeremy Christian spent eight years in Oregon prisons. According to one person who knew him before he was sent up, it was there he connected with white hate groups and became radicalized. We gave up on prison as rehabilitative long ago.

On May 27, 2017, Jeremy Christian verbally assaulted two young women, one black, the other Muslim on a MAX train. Christian is a self-proclaimed white separatist. He reportedly yelled at the women “Get off the bus and get out of the country.” When three men intervened, he killed two (Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche and Ricky John Best) and seriously injured the third (Micah David-Cole Fletcher). The three men were white Portlanders, one was Jewish. Will this send a message to white supremacists seeking to move here? They are planning to rally in downtown Portland on June 4. While they are free to speak, we do not welcome those who promote hate.

We honor Taliesin, Rick, and Micah and embrace the two young women who were vilified. This kind of courage is also Oregon’s legacy. We can’t change Oregon’s history or increase Portland’s diversity overnight. But we can make it welcoming to all those who seek a community striving for inclusion and the enrichment it brings. As civil rights attorney Arjun Singh Sethi wrote in The Washington Post: “Attacks like Portland’s will keep happening unless we all fight racism, simply being sorry isn’t enough.”

Portland is also enriched by numerous groups promoting diversity and fighting against hate (links to a few are given below). One of them, the Asian and Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), provides suggestions for how we can grow a better community:

“We continue to affirm our support for those who have been terrorized and traumatized, and seek community-driven solutions to address the root causes of oppression. We uplift local efforts including; 1) ending racial profiling and establishing strong community centered police accountability; 2) ensuring all students have access to quality ethnic studies education; 3) creating safe cultural spaces for communities to gather, and; 4) educating to counter hate ideologies and indoctrinations especially amongst our youth.”

We can also support those who are working against racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia, misogyny, and xenophobia – with our time and/or money. And we can look to them for guidance and information to help us move forward. I will end with another thought from APANO:

"These times of fear and violence require us to reflect deeply on root causes, and is not an excuse to over-police our communities. May more Oregonians take action to interrupt hate and stand for love. In these terrible moments, we are reminded of our fragile humanity and the need to build institutions that function as systems of care and are focused on the inherent worth and dignity of all people.”

Links (not exhaustive by any means): Oregon Coalition Against Hate Crimes: https://oregoncahc.org/

Unite Oregon: www.uniteoregon.org

Change Lab, Race File: www.racefiles.com

APANO: www.apano.org

Coalition of Communities of Color: www.coalitioncommunitiescolor.org

Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO): https://irco.org

NAACP Portland Chapter: www.portlandnaacp1120.org

Urban League of Portland: https://ulpdx.org

Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA): https://nayapdx.org

Western States Center: www.westernstatescenter.org

Rural Organizing Project: www.rop.org

Partnership for Safety and Justice: www.safetyandjustice.org

Black Lives Matter Portland: https://blackpdx.com

Basic Rights Oregon: www.basicrights.org

Southern Poverty Law Center: www.splcenter.org

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR): www.cair.org

I AM AFRAID . . . I AM NOT AFRAID . . . I AM ENCOURAGED . . . .

I AM NOT AFRAID of the Iranian student who has been studying in the U.S., but cannot return from a visit home.

I AM NOT AFRAID of the Sudanese doctor working in Cleveland who was forced to leave the U.S.

I AM NOT AFRAID of the MIT professor’s Iranian parents who hold green cards, but were prevented from returning to celebrate their grandchildren’s birthdays.

I AM NOT AFRAID of the Syrian medical student’s two uncles, two aunts, and two teenage cousins who had immigrant visas but were turned back after arriving in Philadelphia.

I AM NOT AFRAID of the young Iranian scientist and his wife who were planning to take up residence in Boston where he had a fellowship to study cardiovascular medicine at Harvard before their visas were canceled.

I AM NOT AFRAID of the Iraqi man who worked for a U.S. contractor in Iraq but was denied entry to visit his wife and son in the U.S.

I AM NOT AFRAID of the Kurdish family of five seeking refuge from Iraq who were returned there despite having valid visas.

I AM NOT AFRAID of the three Somali brothers who have been vetted and approved to enter the United States. They’ve been living in a Nairobi refugee camp for 25 years.

I AM NOT AFRAID of the 10-year-old refugee from Iraq where his father was an interpreter for the U.S. Army.

I AM NOT AFRAID of Hajira and her six daughters, all Somali refugees, who have been staying in a Nairobi refugee camp awaiting emigration to the U.S.

I AM NOT AFRAID of the 50 Syrian families fleeing death and the loss of their homes and livelihoods every hour.

I AM NOT AFRAID of refugees from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, seeking asylum from murderous gangs.

I AM AFRAID OF STEVE BANNON who devised the immigration ban that has disrupted so many lives, and, at least in one case, caused the death of a 75-year-old Iraqi woman with a green card, who was seeking medical care in the U.S.

I AM AFRAID OF STEVE BANNON because he is a white nationalist, who led a media empire into becoming what a former Breitbart editor called a “a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers.”

I AM AFRAID OF STEVE BANNON because he promotes the “alt-right,” a haven of white nationalists.

I AM AFRAID OF JEFF SESSIONS because he praised the 1924 Immigration Act that imposed a racist quota system favoring Northern Europeans and said that between 1924 and 1965 it had “created really the solid middle class of America, with assimilated immigrants, and it was good for America,” The Atlantic reported.

I AM AFRAID OF JEFF SESSIONS because he has been the key bridge between anti-immigrant groups and Congress since 1997. (Southern Poverty Law Center)

I AM AFRAID OF DONALD TRUMP because he has chosen white supremacists as his close advisors, directed a massive immigration halt, closing U.S. borders to 60,000 to 100,000 people who have been approved for entry, ordered a wall to be built on the U.S. border with Mexico, tweeted racist, misogynist, xenophobic rants, creating space in normal discourse for white supremacists.

I AM AFRAID OF DONALD TRUMP because he is commander in chief of the largest military in the world and has the ability to start a nuclear war.

I AM AFRAID OF DONALD TRUMP because he has no respect for the U.S. constitution or international law.

I AM AFRAID OF DONALD TRUMP because he does not believe in an independent judiciary.

I AM AFRAID OF DONALD TRUMP because he has no respect for the rule of law.

I AM AFRAID . . . .

I AM ENCOURAGED by the federal judges who have stayed the order prohibiting refugees and asylum seekers and people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S.

I AM ENCOURAGED by the State Department employees who have expressed their opposition to his unconstitutional order and those who immediately implemented Judge Robart’s stay of that order, allowing tens of thousands with legitimate visas to enter the U.S.

I AM ENCOURAGED by the thousands of fellow citizens, immigrants, and visitors who rushed to airports across the country to protest Trump's unconstitutional immigration order.

I AM ENCOURAGED by millions of fellow citizens, immigrants, and visitors who have taken to the streets and social networks to protest this fascist-leaning president.

Ethnic Cleansing, U.S. Style or "It Can Never Happen Here"

  • A letter left at several homes in McKinney, Texas: “Our new president Donald J. Trump is God’s gift to white nation. We want to get our country back on the right track. We need to get rid of Muslims, Indians, Blacks and Jews.”
  • Letter sent to a mosque in Northern California: “Trump is going to cleanse America. And he’s going to start with you Muslims. He’s going to do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews.”
  • "Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on," Trump said in a news release posted to his website on Dec. 7, 2015.
  • “Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who helped write tough immigration laws in Arizona and elsewhere, said in an interview that Trump's policy advisers had also discussed drafting a proposal for his consideration to reinstate a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries.
  • “Kobach leaves little doubt that they’re coming for the Muslims. First.” Mark Sumner, “The Precedent for Trump’s Muslim Registry is Japanese Internment Camps,” Daily Kos, November 17, 2016.
  • “You’re going to have a deportation force and you’re going to do it humanely.” Donald J. Trump, December 2015. While Trump now says he will focus first on the “two to three million” undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes, it is unclear whether he will stand by his promise to deport the 8 to 9 million who have not violated the law (other than remaining in the country without necessary documents, which includes people brought here as children).
  • “President-elect Donald J. Trump’s promise to deport two million to three million immigrants who have committed crimes suggested that he would dramatically step up removals of both people in the United States illegally and those with legal status. If carried out, the plan potentially would require raids by a vastly larger federal immigration force to hunt down these immigrants and send them out of the country.” By Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Julia Preston, “What Donald Trump’s Vow to Deport Up to 3 Million Immigrants Would Mean,” The New York Times, November 14, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/15/us/politics/donald-trump-deport-immigrants.html
  • “Earlier this year, Mr. Gingrich called for a new House Un-American Activities Committee to deal with ‘Islamic supremacists.’ That notorious committee’s hearings and the investigations by Senator Joseph McCarthy into suspected Communists represented some of the most severe political repression in American history and destroyed lives. Today, as falsehoods are spread quickly on the internet and accepted as true, this risk may be even more acute.” Faiza Patel, A “'Commission on Radical Islam' Could Lead to a New McCarthy Era,” November 18, 2016, https://www.brennancenter.org/blog/commission-radical-islam-could-lead-new-mccarthy-era

* * *

Maybe I’m slow, but it took me until a few days ago to realize that opposition to immigration and support for deportation of immigrants with or without documents is not solely based on fear of losing jobs. The majority of those targeted for exclusion are Latinos and Middle Easterners. That is not economic based. That is xenophobic based. The fear is of a non-white non-Christian majority, loss of power, and loss of a European and Christian culture. The goal is ethnically cleansing the U.S. of as many “others” as possible to maintain white dominance.

A state can accomplish ethnic cleansing in several ways: by “voluntary” exodus or exchange of populations (unlikely); by forced removal assisted by threats, burning homes, attacking and killing people; by mass murder of a large segment of the hated group. That is called Genocide. I’ve seen it before when I lived in the former Yugoslavia, the violent breakdown and separation of a multiethnic, multi-religious society into ethnic and religious groups: Orthodox Christian Serbs, Catholic Croats, Muslim Bosniaks, Kosovar Albanians (though a large percentage are Muslim, the attempted cleansing of Kosovo was based on ethnicity). Ethnic cleansing begun as a forced movement of people ended in mass murder and the genocide of Bosniak Muslims. It nearly ended in genocide for the Kosovar Albanians. And the once multinational Bosnia-Herzegovina is now split in two: the predominantly Bosniak and Croat republic and Republika Srpska, the predominantly Serb republic. After massive loss of life, genocide, and the destruction of cities and homes, the U.S. brokered a deal to end the war in Bosnia (the Dayton Accords), a deal that rewarded the aggressor Bosnian Serbs with the land they’d taken by force.

Before I left for the Balkans, I was chatting with a clerk in a small Grants Pass shop. By then, the Bosnian war had ended and the war in Kosovo was two years away. The clerk decried the fighting among citizens of the same country, neighbor against neighbor. “It could never happen here,” he assured himself. Apparently, his high school history class did not teach about the Civil War . . .

• Or the U.S. government’s genocide and removal of Native Americans from their tribal lands onto reservations.

• Or our second original sin, the kidnapping, rape, and enslavement of millions of Africans who created a big chunk of American wealth.

• Or state constitutional amendments, passed on the eve of the Civil War, prohibiting African-Americans from residing or remaining after dark (including in Oregon). Thousands of towns and cities, called sundown towns, followed suit.

• Or Jim Crow segregation, forced labor on chain gangs, and lynching that eviscerated the emancipation of black people.

• Or the internment of 100,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry during WWII.

• Or the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, prohibiting the immigration of Chinese, not repealed until 1943.

• Or the American Eugenics Movement that sterilized 70,000 people, mostly women, and confined in mental institutions a long list of undesirables (including among many others paupers, blind and hearing impaired people, promiscuous women), a movement brought to its ultimate conclusion by the Nazis, at which point it lost favor in the U.S.

• Or F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover’s and Senator Joe McCarthy’s Communist witch hunt of the forties and fifties that ruined people’s lives for mere association with Communists.

• Or President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1953 executive order banning gays and lesbians from federal employment.

• Or today’s imprisonment of one out of three young black men, denying millions of them participation in civil society as voters, candidates, and jurors. Think how that might change election results. Forty percent of the 2.2 million people locked up in U.S. prisons are African American. Their percentage in the U.S. population is 6.5%.

Guantanamo Bay lay in the future. As did the Draconian local and state laws banishing anyone convicted of a sex offense (including consensual sex between youth, streaking, public urination, all lumped together with serial rapists) to the outskirts of towns, placing them on a “sex offender” registry, and stamping sex offender into their passports.

Throughout U.S. history, we have isolated and demonized an ever-changing group of people to scapegoat as “the other,” placing them outside constitutional protections. The template was created at the formation of the United States. It’s handy because it can be reused and applied to any disliked group.

Will we ever learn?

To end on a more positive note, I will quote a letter from my senator:

“Like you, I'm stunned.

“This is a dark and disturbing moment for our country, and you have every right to feel the way that you do right now.

“This election result is troubling in what it says about American values and what it means for our future. But that's not a reason to despair. It's a reason to work even harder.

“It's going to be more important than ever in the wake of this election that we stand up for equality, diversity, and justice. That we love and support our fellow citizens, immigrants, refugees, and anyone fearing a surge of hate, discrimination, and exclusion. It's up to us to fight for the values we cherish and the progressive vision we hold dear." Sen. Jeff Merkeley

MOTHER OF EXILES

In 1875 or thereabouts, my great grandpa left the Ukraine where he’d been sent into military service by the Russian Tsar. He was hungry. The soldiers barely survived on paltry rations. So he ran away. Deserted. And came to America. He was an economic immigrant.

Today, some in the U.S. disparage economic immigrants and want to keep them out. How are they different from my great grandfather? Should he, I wonder, have been denied entry? And, if him, what of the young man, the teenager fleeing drug cartels that will force him to kill or be killed? He seeks safety more than food. What of the young girl fleeing a gang who raped and killed her friend when she declined to be a “girlfriend?” There are treaties that require us to accept asylum seekers. Yet we return them to near certain death or torture.

America, the land of immigrants. Somewhere, along our way, we have forgotten, what is inscribed on a tablet in the pedestal of Lady Liberty:

The New Colossus

By Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles.

From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips.

"Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

THE COMING DARK AGE

I stare out my office window with a blank mind. Panic attacks me. At least I know this feeling and know it will pass. Please. It exhausts me. I feel sick. Lie on the couch and stare some more. Police are killing black people. They argue that we should wait until an investigation tells us what we see with our own eyes through on-site video. Cops shooting black men up close. Are we to ignore the context and our history? A country birthed in racism. Decades of brutal slavery. Gains from a civil war lost with the assassination of a president and a cowardly, racist Congress. Jim Crow segregating, dehumanizing black people. Black men returned to slavery, forced to work on chain gangs. White defiance of federal law. Imprisonment of black people hides continued segregation. One million black people reside in America’s prisons and jails, nearly half of all prisoners. Two million two hundred thousand (2,200,000) black people cannot vote because of a felony conviction, even after serving their sentences. Why do white (Republicans) need more voting restrictions?

A black man, former soldier, kills five white cops in Dallas. Another black man, former soldier, kills three cops, two white, one black in Baton Rouge. Paralysis. Sadness. Fear for what happens next. Gratitude for President Obama. Who is still hated and blamed.

A proto-fascist running for president of the United States. The choice of the angry, disaffected, racist white (largely) men. Our demons have been loosed. The worst elements of our nature. Sanctified, legitimized at the highest levels. White supremacists are no longer marginal. Trump retweets them. They support him.

Hatred for Hillary grows. She is not allowed to make mistakes. Misogyny is always hidden, even from ourselves. Polls say she and Trump are running neck and neck. Citizens dislike her as much as they dislike him. Few will vote with enthusiasm. Most say they will vote against. I remember an election stolen. I remember Joe McCarthy. I fear a coming Dark Age.