One year ago, on May 26th, three courageous individuals put their lives on the line to stop white supremacist violence on our public transit system. Honoring the fallen, we wrote: “Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, Ricky Best, and Micah David-Cole Fletcher did not know each other, until they bravely utilized their power to take collective action against white supremacy. They are exemplary members of the community of transit riders. They are heroes. Today, we declare them to be permanent, honorary members of Bus Riders Unite. They have demonstrated a commitment to social justice, racial justice, and transportation justice that all riders should aspire toward. May Taliesin and Ricky rest in power. We wish Micah a speedy recovery.”
The stabbings shook many of us who take transit every day. We hold the families of the heroes and the youth of color that were targets close to our hearts as we continue to heal and fight for a more just society.
Bus Riders Unite organizers asked our community, in a series of workshop events across the city, “What is Safety?” People presented diverse desires for stronger community ties – and very few said more police would help at all.
What we hear is that safety is a concern and a priority on our transit system but that safety means very different things for people of color and low-income communities. That more police and an increased militarized transit system does not make our riders and drivers more safe.
People of color and low income people are not a monolith. But most of those we’ve spoken to desire solutions that don’t rely on a historically-violent, unaccountable Police Bureau to resolve issues presented by historically-violent, unaccountable white supremacists. We also wrote at the time of the stabbings, “Many people we meet on the bus are justifiably afraid of police due to countless historical abuses. Exploiting this most recent tragedy to ramp up transit policing is a false solution that could lead to more death and abuse of our communities.”
One year later decision-makers are militarizing public spaces. Transit policing ramped up immediately following the violence. Members reported an uptick in harassment from security personnel. Portland’s mayor is investing in more police, rather than in access to transportation for East Portland youth. Portland Police Bureau will soon add dozens of new officers. Police continue to kill unarmed, nonviolent suspects, including people of color and those with mental illness, and face no accountability for their use of force. The City of Portland remains under a Federal injunction for how officers handle encounters with people experiencing mental health crises.
These decisions are false solutions, and does not create the safety and security targeted transit dependent people deserve. In our “What is Safety?” forums last year, we heard stories that are consistent with what we hear when we bus organize, that this wasn’t an isolated incident.
Rider of color have told us of numerous instances in which they have have experienced hate and harassment and this will continue if directly impacted voices are not centered in the solutions.
Through these listening forums we began working with Amalgamated Transit Union 757 and other community partners, on restoring the successful Rider Advocate program. This is a program that advance the best security and safety strategy available, building a beloved community.
We continue to honor the lives of the Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche and Ricky Best, and commend the heroism of Micah David-Cole Fletcher. We also center the experience and leadership of youth and people of color and their daily actions of building community and standing up to white supremacy. We cannot rely on our current institutions to fight back against white supremacist and police violence, we must band together and create our bold community driven solutions and hold our institutions accountable to following our lead.