When you think of Portland, OR you probably think of a peaceful haven for hipsters, with craft beer and vegan restaurants, man buns and vape shops. Until this year, the word “weird” would come to mind sooner than the word “violence.”
In a stunningly hateful act, two men are now dead and one is very seriously wounded simply by coming to the defense of two women. Both women were on the receiving end of racially and religiously motivated slurs while riding the Portland MAX on Friday, May 26th, notably the beginning of Ramadan.
The Oregonian offered a more detailed reporting today, quoting Dyjuana Hudson. “He was saying that Muslims should die,” said Hudson. “That they’ve been killing Christians for years.” Her daughter was one of the two whom the perpetrator, Jeremy Joseph Christian, had verbally attacked.
What is striking about this incident is the simultaneous horror and hope that arose as word spread.
On one hand, it’s hard to stomach a news story that ends with three stabbings, two innocent lives lost, two women whose lives were in danger, and the knowledge that we still live in a society where individuals like the perpetrator feel safe and justified expressing prejudiced, hateful, ignorant filth. In fact, with the current political climate, they feel more at ease expressing these views than any time in recent history. Conversely, there is also an uplifting side to the story, in that we also live in a society where some people are willing to stand up and say something.
In the words of Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” These men did something.
Margie Fletcher, whose son, Micah (21), survived having his throat viciously cut just millimeters from his jugular, was quoted by CNN’s Nicole Chavez as saying, “I’m proud of him for standing up. I’m grateful that he’s here. It’s hard for me to say that I want people to stand up, but two girls might be alive because of them.”
While Fletcher is reportedly in bad condition, he is stable and a GoFund account has been set up with a goal of $150k to treat his injuries. (On that note, if you would like to be someone who actually does something, please follow this link to donate)
How rare is it for strangers to help one another?
Well, it’s not exactly quantifiable data, but an incident in 1964 actually spurred a nickname for the phenomenon of when “good men do nothing.” It’s called the bystander effect or “Genovese syndrome,” after Kitty Genovese, a young woman who was stabbed despite several witnesses and neighbors overhearing her screams for help.
Though the reports of witnesses were exaggerated, and the extent to which efforts to help were minimized in the story’s report two days after the murder, it remains a compelling account of one notable time when no one came to aid someone clearly in danger.
This was not one of those times. And if we are to take anything away, it should be a sense of responsibility to do likewise, and to honor those who do the right thing when it would be easier to sit down, stay quiet, and pretend that the madman yelling on the bus is not your problem.
Earlier this year, a coworker and I were disgusted (as was everyone) with the April incident on a United Flight, but not because a few workers at United beat up a man who refused to give up the seat he had paid to occupy. We were amazed at how it even occurred when everyone nearby was sitting, apparently literally floored, as a man was being dragged down the aisle of a commercial jet.
This tragedy on the Portland MAX is a resounding sliver of hope that yes, we still have people with integrity in our midst. We still have people brave enough to simply intervene — even at the highest possible cost.
The two men lost to us now are Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche (23) and Ricky Best (53). Meche was a Reed-college economics graduate and Best an Army veteran with four children.
To offer support to their families, please click here.
Photos are screen shots from YouTube
Megan Wallin is a young writer with a background in the social sciences and an interest in seeking the extraordinary in the mundane. A Seattle native, she finds complaining about the constant drizzle and overabundance of Starbucks coffee therapeutic. With varied work experiences as a residential counselor, preprimary educator, musician, writing tutor and college newspaper reporter/editor, Megan is thrilled to offer a unique perspective through writing, research and open dialogue.