26 years ago, I was living in what was deemed the “murder capital” of the world – Washington, DC. You could never be too careful, ever. Always carry money because robbers had been known to shoot people if wallets were empty. Walking home after dark? Forget the sidewalks and walk down the middle of the street. There were racially motivated riots in the neighborhood next to mine that eventually moved down to Adams-Morgan. The night I was addressing my wedding invitations, my friends and I looked out my window to see police in riot gear, shooting tear gas – all while we could hear looters shattering glass to get into the convenience store across the street. We were under city-imposed curfew the next two nights.
Moving to the west coast – and Salem, Oregon specifically – was like being transported to a different world. Folks here worried about “crime” and it was hard not to laugh. Sure there was crime but really, in comparison to what some folks on the other side of the country were experiencing day in and day out, well…I hope people didn't see my eyes roll when they talked about “dangerous” areas in the city or in the rest of Oregon.
The reality of crime and hate and its effects exploded in my state last week. This is not to negate nor downplay the thousands of hate crimes and micro-aggressions that have impacted Oregon for the past two centuries. Surprisingly to some, “When the state entered the union in 1859, for example, Oregon explicitly forbade black people from living in its borders, the only state to do so.” On this issue, Oregon’s constitution wasn’t changed until 2002. At one point Oregon had the largest Klan membership west of the Rockies. So contrary to popular belief, Oregon has not been a haven of racial harmony.
But even so, last Friday, ironically two days before we remembered people who die in service to our country, the state was rocked when two men were brutally stabbed and killed – and a third was seriously injured. These men tried to intervene as another man (spouting racial and religious taunts) harassed two teenagers – an African American and Arab American – on the MAX train in Portland. The brutality of the crime shocked the state and the country. It was hard to fathom.
Generosity comes in many forms. Most of us don’t think that some day it may cost us our lives. The three men, Rick Best (53), Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche (23), and Micah David-Cole Fletcher (21) were doing the right thing. They were living out the parable of the Good Samaritan. They were coming to the aid of two young women – one dressed in a hijab – who were under attack. How could they have ever known that by doing the right thing that they would be killed or seriously wounded?
And yet, and yet… Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche’s dying words to a complete stranger were, “Tell everyone on this train, I love them.”
I have no idea of the faith of any of the men who were attacked – maybe they were atheists for all I know. But it’s clear that they were living out John 15:13, “No one shows greater love than when he lays down his life for his friends.” Best, Namkai Meche, and Fletcher are the kind of Good Samaritans that I want to be. Going about their every day business, they did not ignore evil standing in front of them. They stopped and did what was right. And it cost them everything. May their families find peace and may we stand to be in service to our country wherever we are. There’s a lot of work to do.
** There have been several crowdfunding campaigns set up to help the families of the victims. Click here to find out more.