PORTLAND/DEARBORN — On May 26, a man aboard a commuter train in Portland, Oregon slashed the throats of three passengers for heroically standing up for and protecting two teenage girls from his White supremacist, anti-Muslim tirade.
Ricky John Best, 53, reportedly died at the scene, while Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23, died after being transported to a local hospital. However, the third victim, Micah David-Cole Fletcher, 21, survived and is now recovering.
Best worked as a supervisor for the city’s Bureau of Development Services and was an Army veteran and one-time candidate for Clackamas County commissioner. He is survived by his wife, three teenage sons and a 12-year-old daughter.
The second hero, Namkai-Meche, graduated from Reed College in 2016 with an economics degree and worked for the Cadmus Group.
Fletcher, the surviving hero, is a writer who won a 2013 poetry competition with a poem condemning the prejudices Muslims face.
“It’s called a terrorist attack”
Police identified the attacker as Jeremy Joseph Christian, a 35-year-old convicted felon, who started spewing ethnic and religious slurs at a 16-year-old Black girl and her Muslim friend, who wears the hijab.
By definition, White supremacism is the belief that White people are superior to all other races and should govern society— a political ideology advocated on his Facebook page.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Christian’s page revealed that he supported creating a “White homeland” in the Pacific Northwest. He even claimed on April 9 that he had “just challenged Ben Ferencz (last living Nuremberg persecutor [sic]) to a debate in the Hague with Putin as our judge. I will defend the Nazis and he will defend the AshkeNAZIs.”
While federal officials called the assault a “possible hate crime”, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler described it as a terrorist attack.
President Trump’s condemnation came in three days late through the official White House Twitter and only said the “violent attacks” are “unacceptable”, without even pointing out the extremist’s political ideology.
Sayed Hassan Qazwini of the Islamic Institute of America said it’s as if the word “terrorist” was only designed for those who call themselves Muslims.
“We have to call things what they are,” he said, adding that he’s disappointed with the president for not coming out and condemning the Portland attack as an act of terrorism.
“He chose not to say anything explicitly about the nature of this crime,” Qazwini said.
Terrorism means unlawfully using violence and intimidation against civilians for political gains. According to local Muslim leaders and activists, the Portland attacker did just that.
Dawud Walid, the executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Michigan, said the attacker falls under the definition of a domestic terrorist because of his actions, adding that in this case only his skin color protects him from being called a terrorist.
“Law enforcement, as well as the media, are extremely shy in calling White people terrorists,” Walid said. “…This is a long pattern that’s been taking place in American society in which government officials, as well as the media, are quick to label Muslims terrorists without knowing all the facts or knowing if the Muslims are sane, while White non-Muslims are rarely ever called terrorists.”
Fatima Salman, a local activist and the former executive director of Muslim Students’ Association National, said not calling the Portland stabbings a terrorist attack makes it seem acceptable.
“I just wonder how much [it] will create a sense of normalcy in the country [because of that],” she said, adding that she prays this is not the turn America takes “because if it is, it is a very dark turn.”
“In the face of hate,
don’t hesitate to act with love”
Qazwini said this tragedy will only encourage more people to act with love— saluting the three heroes for their courageous act and for showing that America remains one of the greatest nations on earth.
“The heroes set an example for other people in our nation that even if you lose your life, it’s worth it in the long run to stand for justice,” he said. “Because you’ll be preventing an even bigger tragedy. I think it will encourage people to do the same.”
Salman said now she worries for those experiencing hate and for the allies standing up for them.
“It’s terrifying to think about,” she said. “…This hate is so venomous that it’s targeting everybody. It’s not just targeting the people it wants to target anymore… That’s what hate does, it [intensifies] and doesn’t allow people to think properly.”
Walid also said lives have always been lost when battling animosity and opposing injustice.
“Similarly, in the civil rights movement, there were White Americans who were murdered standing up for the rights of African Americans,” he said. “This is not unprecedented in American history and it’s quite unfortunate.”
Salman said the tragedy only reinforced her belief that there are good people in the world.
“People of faith and people of goodness believe that this is what we have to do,” she said. “This is the purpose of this world… We stand up for truth and stand up for justice.”
That’s exactly the message the heroes and their families wish to keep alive through their sacrifices. A dying Namkai-Meche reportedly told a witness, “Tell everyone on this train I love them.”
In an open letter, his mother, Asha Deliverance, asked President Trump to condemn any hate crimes and “encourage all Americans to protect and watch out for one another.”
“Our family grieves,” Deliverance said of her son, “but we are proud that through his selfless action he, along with the two other men, has changed the world, when in the face of hate he did not hesitate to act with love.”
“Muslims unite for Portland heroes”
American Muslims took it as a duty to raise funds for the families of the Portland heroes— launching a campaign called “Muslims Unite for Portland Heroes” on LaunchGood.com on May 27.
The campaign was co-founded by two non-profit organizations called the Muslim Education Trust (MET) and CelebrateMercy. MET is based in Portland and strives to better society by offering educational programs that benefit Muslims and non-Muslims, while CelebrateMercy nationally teaches about the Prophet Muhammad’s life and character through courses and social campaigns.
Rania Ayoub, MET’s director of public relations, told The AANews that the organization felt the need to step up promptly to show the Muslim community’s support and gratefulness for the three men’s bravery.
The initial goal was only $60,000, but within five hours of launching the campaign they surpassed the amount and kept on raising the goal. They’ve raised more than half a million dollars so far.
According to the fundraising site, the funds will initially cover the immediate needs of the grieving families.
“If needed, funds will also help with the medical bills of Micah David-Cole Fletcher,” a notice on the site said. “After all immediate expenses, such as funeral and memorial services, are covered, extra funds will go towards long-term expenses of the families.”
Ayoub said MET leaders met with Asha Deliverance and will be visiting the other two families soon.
“We’re also planning on having a memorial service this upcoming Sunday for the two heroes,” she said. “Hopefully, the third hero who survived will be able to attend it.”