No matter who you are or where you live– whether it’s here in Portland or you’re one of my European or Asian readers — you’ve probably heard the story.
If not, here it is in a nutshell.
Just over a week ago, two girls — aged 12 and 13, one of which was wearing a hijab — were harassed by a guy on a local MAX train. As the train approached the Hollywood station (just 5 blocks from my house), three men attempted to defuse the situation and calm the irate individual spewing racist remarks at the girls.
Within seconds the situation changed from a highly charged situation to a fatal encounter.
Unexpectedly the madman pulled a concealed knife out of his sleeve and in just seconds, he stabbed all three in the neck– and then ran off the train, up the platform and into my neighborhood.
On a beautiful day like yesterday, this is what that stop looks like.
One of those men, Rick Best, an Army vet and father of four, died at the scene.
Another, Tailiesin Myrddin Namkia-Meche, a 23 year old recent Reed College graduate, bled out on the floor of the train while strangers comforted him in his last moments. He was taken to the hospital where he was announced dead.
Micah David Cole Fletcher, the third hero who stood up to the attacker, was also stabbed but he survived and has since been released from the hospital.
Everyone I know is in a state of deep shock and mourning.
I can barely talk about it without losing it, and yesterday I decided to check out the makeshift memorial that has popped up at that fateful transit stop just down the road.
What I saw was moving beyond words.
I walked up to the corner and started to take it all in.
As I left the corner with the hundreds of flowers
I was bowled over by all the handwritten notes, burning candles, and children’s drawings.
In the half block leading up to the stairs to the train, chalk art covered the walls and flowers were scattered on the sidewalk below.
As I walked up to the stairs to the train platform, more tributes surrounded me; it seems like everywhere I looked there was a prayer, a call to arms, a display of gratitude.
Some of the most poignant were the notes written by kids.
And look at this note secured with puppy duct tape.
The thought that these three guys were just heading home early at the beginning of a holiday weekend and had no idea of the threat looming wrecks me. The fact that they stood up to this madman in the defense of someone they’d never met –only to die for their efforts –is the bitterest pill to swallow.
Many of us live in Portland in a kind of liberal bubble of friendly neighbors, kind strangers and a healthy, outdoorsy lifestyle but this crime was a terrible reminder that hate, ignorance and evil live in Portland, too. The attacker is on videotape at a Trump rally the week before shouting and doing Nazi salutes. What does this tell us?
White supremacists and bigots are everywhere–yes, even in Portland and we live in a time in which they are particularly emboldened. We live in a town that is 76% white, so many of our persons of color feel especially outnumbered and vulnerable, and authorities simply cannot stop every single hate crime from happening.
We must stand together.
As I walked around the memorial, I remembered that some punk stole the backpack and the wedding ring off Rick Best’s finger as he lay dying, and amidst all those balloons and flowers, I felt my depression darken.
And then I remembered something that I’d seen on TV the night before.
A reporter was telling the story of Mr. Roger’s (of “Neighborhood” fame) who once asked his Mom about what to think about all the ugliness and violence in the world. She told him to not focus on that, but instead to “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
And lo and behold, look what I then saw at the memorial.
Look for the Helpers.
When I came home, I decided to focus less on the crime and the perpetrator and more on those who stepped up to help.
I read everything I could about them. The violence happened so fast and while many fled in fear, there were those brave souls who followed the attacker in the neighborhood until the police were able to come and arrest him. Their fearlessness meant that this freak is now in jail.
And then there were those on the train who stayed with the men on the train as they died, telling them they were loved, comforting them, and thanking them for their sacrifice. These strangers held them in their arms, holding their wounds and whispering softly to them while they waited for medical help to arrive (which sadly came too late).
And the last words Tailiesin said before he died?
“Tell everyone on the train that I love them.”
The world needs more of these heroes, people who are willing to stand up against hate and prejudice, selflessly. We can’t turn away, or pretend it’s not happening, think only of our own well-being or expect someone else to do it.
We need to summon the courage the Rick, Tailiesin, and Micah found — and stand together.
I am not alone in hoping for a different outcome the next time.
Yes, the whole bus must stand up.
And as I grapple with this new world view (one I’ve been largely blithely ignorant of), I too will try to find my way.
I will double down on kindness and try to talk to my kids about the importance of speaking up, but to hopefully do so in a way that doesn’t imperil them unduly.
It is all of our responsibility to do the right thing, even (and especially) when we are most afraid.
These are choppy waters, my friends, and I don’t have any answers, only prayers and hopes.
That and the most profound gratitude that in the first few hours of official Memorial Day weekend festivities, angels walking this earth showed us what true courage is all about.
May your recovery, Micah, be expedited and complete.
And Rick and Tailiesin, may you rest in peace.
You will not be forgotten.