In recent years, Portland has been the site of white supremacist rallies and Antifa counterprotests. It has also seen a white man try to sic a pit bull on an African-American man who he said was “in the wrong neighborhood”; a driver screaming at a pregnant Muslim woman to remove her hijab; and the conviction of a white supremacist who deliberately plowed his Jeep into a black teenager. (He was sentenced to at least 28 years in prison, in what was believed to be Oregon’s first hate-crime murder conviction in more than three decades.)
“The incident aboard the MAX train on May 26, 2017, left a deep wound in our community, a community that rejects hate, racism and violence in any form,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, said in a statement after the verdict. “The conviction won’t fully take away the pain inflicted on the families, friends and loved ones of the victims in the MAX attack, but the hope is that they find relief in the legal justice that was served today.”
Even so, civil rights advocates say they have seen few signs that Portland has reckoned with its racist history or is taking the necessary steps today to eradicate bigotry.
“I’ve been in situations where I’ve been humiliated in public, and no one responds,” said Teressa Raiford, an African-American community organizer and mayoral candidate whose family has lived in Portland for four generations.
“They are conditioned to feel safe, and we aren’t,” she said of white residents.
Some observers have said that if the city took a more forceful approach to racist attacks, the train attack might have been avoided. The day before the attack, an African-American woman, Demetria Hester, reported that a man had harassed and assaulted her in an incident that began on a light rail train. Prosecutors later said that man was Mr. Christian.
In his murder trial, the woman testified that Mr. Christian had been shouting epithets on the train, and she had asked him to lower his voice. When he followed her off the train, she said, the incident escalated: She pepper-sprayed him, and he threw a full bottle of Gatorade, hitting her right eye “like a bullet,” she testified.
Mr. Christian did not testify during his trial. His lawyers argued that he acted in self-defense when he felt threatened by the men confronting him, and that his words, vile as they may have been, were protected by the First Amendment.