Notes on the Portland Terror Attack

Portland — where I grew up, and where I live again now — isn’t used to being attacked, but I’m proud of how many there are responding.  The terror attack on our light rail system, in which two men were killed and another injured for trying to stop the abuse of Muslim passengers, has been understood as an attack on the city itself.

If citizens cannot accommodate the ways they are different from one another, a democratic city is impossible.  Diversity — and the principle of kindness toward people who are different from you — is as essential to our city’s functioning as a water supply is.  So attacks on diversity are as much of a threat as attacks on our water supply.

Public transit, in particular, is always under attack, in part because of the levels of mutual respect that it requires.  No moment in urban life requires such intimate contact with diversity as the time spent on transit.  You are closer than you might like to people who are different from you, and unlike on the street, you can’t just walk away.  Sharing space on a bus or train requires 100 little adjustments, tiny acts of respect or accommodation.  Not everyone can do this.  So for those trained to read diversity as danger, hatred of public transit is understandable.

The healthiest response to this kind of attack, I think, is to take it personally, as most Portlanders I know are doing.  We should understand that the hatred is directed at each of us.  This is moral outrage that resonates through at least three tiers of concern:  It’s an attack on our own values as individuals, and also on our city, and also on the whole idea of civilization.  Feel how similar those three ways of being offended really are.

Then respond with an outrage that remains fused with kindness for one another.  For that is the whole point.

6 Responses to Notes on the Portland Terror Attack

  1. david vartanoff June 1, 2017 at 9:56 am #

    Well said.

  2. Rico June 1, 2017 at 8:23 pm #

    Thank you for saying this and especially thanks to the people who stood up against hatred.

  3. Federico June 2, 2017 at 6:47 am #

    Shocked to learn about this. I’m far away but generally learn about these kind of events via Facebook or Twitter. This time I didn’t get anything anywhere probably because the terrorist is a white man. Hoping justice act quick and exemplary in this individual. My condolences to the families and the city

  4. Robert Wightman June 3, 2017 at 4:15 pm #

    I would be proud to live in a city where two people sacrificed their lives to come to the defense of a person being attacked for their religious beliefs. I was also pleased with the response of the Muslim community. The proper reply to acts like this is what can make or break a community. O think that this has made Portland a city to look up to.

  5. Jeff Wegerson June 5, 2017 at 5:21 am #

    Thanks for the reminder that one of the greatest pleasures of urban living is the close time spent with each other’s diversities on transit. We are able to spend serious and mutually respectful unstructured moments with each other. A constantly changing kaliedescope.

    Thanks as well for your additional reminder of individual citizenal and civilizational presences within the realm of transit.

    Among the small constant communal adjustments we make are those moments of attention we pay to the well being our small band of fellow seat mates. We notice when someone’s transgressions shift from naievete or carelessness into rudeness. We notice our potential allies who notice us as well. Concerted defensive action comes as no surprise to those who are paying attention. Shaming a smoker or trash leaving rider is practice for interventions that have the potential for actual violence.

    It is those moments of real violence where the social need to have each other’s backs becomes starkly apparent. It is those moments where defending someone else is what must be done to defend ourselves. It is those moments where we are as Jarrett says, defending our civilization.

  6. Colin June 10, 2017 at 1:39 am #

    Thank you for this impassioned, yet considered, defence of diversity, public space, public transit, and the values that make those things work. It’s important to see the link between “big picture values” and the banality of sharing space with strangers on a bus.