In one black Portland police officer’s frontline experience, the Black Lives Matter protests in his city are not about helping black people attain better lives. What this officer sees is privileged white kids infiltrating communities that don’t belong to them to burn stuff, break things, cause trouble, incite violence, and tell black people what they should do.
This officer, Jakhary Jackson, is a nine-year veteran of the Portland Bureau of Police. After working for Nike for 10 years, Jackson joined law enforcement to “make the most out of my life by helping others.” Both sides of his family have long Portlandian roots. Jackson works where he grew up, and his love for the people of his community is evident.
A Different Kind of Racism
During a Portland press availability, Lt. Tina Jones interviewed Jackson, simply asking him to share his experience working these protests every evening for the last few months.
I’ll say this. I got to see folks that really do want change like the rest of us, that have been impacted by racism. And then I got to see those people get faded out by people who have no idea what racism is all about, that have never experienced racism, that don’t even know that the tactics they are using are the same tactics that were used against my people.
Jackson tells of a young black woman asking him one evening, while he held the line with protesters, why he wouldn’t talk with her and her friends, why he wouldn’t engage them. He explains that young black people often ask him what he thinks of all the unrest. They want to know what he thinks about the injustice, about George Floyd’s death, about the pain resulting from killings of black men.
It isn’t Jackson’s superiors who demand he not speak, it’s the young white protestors — nearly every night. Jackson explains that when “a brother or sister” approaches him, wanting his perspective on things, white protesters jump in like clockwork to tell the inquirer, “F-ck the police. Don’t talk to him.”
“That was the most bizarre thing,” Jackson says, wincing as he tells the story. “Honestly, every time I try to have a conversation with someone that looks like me, someone white comes up and blocks them and tells them not to talk.” Jackson says the very moment he was explaining this to a young black female, “this white girl pops right in front of her” and told her not to speak.
“He just said that was gonna happen!” the black girl said, stunned, is if Jackson were a fortune teller. She looked at the white girl and said, “Why did you do you that?”
Jackson continues, relaying his conversation with the girl, who interrupted: “Then I said, straight up, ‘I’ve been called the N-word. She’s been called the N-word. Why are you talking to me this way? Why do you feel she can’t speak for herself? Why do you feel you need to speak for her when we’re having a conversation?’”
“She couldn’t answer my question,” Jackson says. “All she said was, ‘Someone told me to do it.’”
A Profile of Portland Protesters
When asked about what he and fellow black officers have been subjected to by protesters who are supposedly fighting for racial justice, Jackson tells of protesters regularly threatening his life. He’s taken multiple incoming explosives thrown by rioters, some very powerful with marbles and rocks taped to them, intended to inflict maximum and sustained damage. He saved a female officer from being hit in the head with a massive projectile that he said would certainly have killed her had he not been present.
But to Jackson and his black peers, the most painful thing is white protesters’ words. “It says something when you are at a Black Lives Matter protest, and you have more minorities on the police side than you have in a violent crowd,” Jackson says. “And you have white people screaming at black officers, ‘You have the biggest nose I’ve ever seen.’”
Jackson says he is totally “cool” with people wanting to join efforts to achieve social change. What he’s seen at the Black Lives Matter events, however, “has been very strange to watch” precisely because, as he explains, so-called anti-racism tactics have come full circle: White protesters are telling black people what is best for them. Worse, these white kids are destroying black neighborhoods while they do it.
The first images Jackson saw from the protests were white people, who Jackson says are “not even from here,” burning and looting black businesses. “They don’t even know what they’re doing,” he adds. “So that to me was very angering.”
“The community is not happy with it,” he says. “They asked for the violence to stop.” Jackson tells of his cousin who had attended a Black Lives Matter event but soon left dismayed at the violence perpetrated by white rioters, saying, “This has turned into something else. This is weird.”
Jackson tells another story of a pair of young brothers he met while they were cleaning up the street after the protesters had cleared out. Jackson and a few of his fellow offers went over to shake the boys’ hands, impressed at their efforts to restore the city. “You know,” the boys told the officers, according to Jackson, “We’re from here. This is our city. I don’t understand why people are coming here and destroying it. We want to clean it up.”
An Officer’s Reality
Jackson explains how strange it is for angry white youths to come to his community, claiming they want to help, but telling him to quit his job without knowing anything about him.
Once again, you have a privileged white person telling someone of color what to do with their life. And you don’t even know what I’ve dealt with, what these white officers you’re screaming at have dealt with. You don’t know them. You don’t know anything about them.
Jackson tells how he watches his fellow officers serve the community year after year, risking their lives each day. They do whatever it takes to care for those who have been shot, not afraid to get blood on them. He knows these officers do what they do because they care deeply about all the lives in their community, regardless of skin color.
“You see [the officers], and they are truly trying to help save someone’s life, and then are called racist by people who have never seen anything like that, who have never had to put themselves out there like that. It’s really—” Jackson takes a long pause. “It’s disgusting.”