“Hey little n*****s, get outta the park!”
It’s March 6th 2023 in Portland, Oregon. A white man driving a shiny red pickup screams at my kids who are playing in our neighborhood park just before suppertime. The three Black girls, ages nine, eight, and five, scramble wide-eyed across the grass toward me, faces crumpling into sobs. I bend down and hold them, while keeping an eye on the truck. It cruises slowly around before pulling into the far parking lot, headlights pointed directly at us, too distant for discerning plates. The man switches on his flashers, waiting to see what we’ll do next.
It’s drearily familiar. Ever since 2016, when fascist groups began invading Portland, frequently in truck convoys, local groups have organized resistance. We never know who among them might commit another murder spree. The Charleston, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Colorado Springs and El Paso mass shootings are still fresh. Almost two years ago a violent Proud Boy rally took place near my house and only one year has passed since a fascist opened fire across another nearby park, killing one woman and badly wounding several others including a dear friend of mine. Fortunately antifascist security quickly responded with their AR-15 and incapacitated the man with two well placed shots before he could hurt anyone else.
This situation is nothing new. Men in trucks flashing white power signs. Men in trucks hurling bottles and epithets. Men in trucks rumbling off the road toward families marching against police terror before swerving away at the last moment. I’ve experienced all this. Ordinarily I’d be working with a full security crew, pistols concealed but at the ready in case another deadly Charlottesville style vehicle attack unfolds. Now it’s just me and three children, all so young they can’t comprehend political issues like rising fascism. They aren’t aware that two weeks ago neo-Nazi leaflets were spread around Portland area dwellings to intimidate families like us. Still, like any playground veterans, they understand bullies and clearly see this one hates them because their skin is different from his.
As a white man with a Black wife and Black kids, my social status is split. In most other situations, that fellow in the red pickup would automatically treat me with respect. Maybe swapping jokes on a job site or admiring my own diesel rig. The only times I’ve been asked to leave public parks was by police officers. Exasperated, but politely responding to late night noise complaints from irate neighbors. No exclusions. No checking bottles or IDs. Just: PLEASE LEAVE THE PARK! THE PARK IS CLOSED! Unearned white privilege at its finest.
But sometimes privilege can be a shield. For now, facing off with the red truck, I stay in front, edging slowly sideways while assuring the kids we’ll be ok. It’s only a guess on my part. The man may have nothing left to lose and decided this evening to initiate his Christchurch. Though perhaps he slowly realizes, eliminating just one mixed family before going out in a blaze of gunfire with the cops isn’t quite worth it. Or maybe he notices security cameras posted on a nearby school building pointed right at his tailgate. Either way, he peels out of the lot in a hurry and speeds away, tires screeching.
So we make it home safe. My little ones are shaken but soon distracted by dinner and eventually books before bed. We read them stories about sharing with friends and being kind to others. They can’t help observing that the man in the red truck wasn’t very kind. I’m afraid the park may seem frightening but instead, the very next day they insist we all troop there together again. Everyone runs and swings and chases to their heart’s content, though my gaze constantly monitors traffic. It may seem like victories against bigotry are few these days, but at least our kids won’t let one local fascist ruin their play area. They’re still small… but so brave and we’re so proud of them.