No justice, no peace. Fuck the police. I can’t breathe. Black Lives Matter. Protesters have used these chants, and others, at demonstrations across the country and around the world. From the first #BlackLivesMatter protest that attracted attendees in the thousands and Juneteenth, to confrontations with police and counter-protesters, the Eugene community has seen a lot in its fight against police brutality and racial inequity in its own fight for change.
THE VOICES OF CHANGE: Who you should know
The Black Led Action Coalition
BLAC, founded by siblings Madeliene and Spencer Smith, has hosted only two events, but each were among the largest Eugene has seen. Both events had the atmosphere of celebration as a form of protest and protest as celebration.
The duo has not issued a list of demands, but in an interview, Spencer called for the abolition of police. “The issue we’re facing is healthy alternatives to police,” Spencer said.
The group does not work with institutions such as the Eugene Police Department and University of Oregon, both of which BLAC called racist in a Facebook post.
BU is Eugene’s most active anti-racist group. The group organizes multiple events every week, most frequently marches and die-ins in different parts of the Eugene-Springfield area. Group leaders call for non-violence at each of their events, with “disrupt, not destroy” being a common chant at BU protests.
BU is the only local anti-racist group that calls to reform, not disband, the police. During a demonstration on June 9 in which one protester called to defund the police, Isiah Wagoner, a BU organizer, clarified the group isn’t calling to fully defund the police. “There are some people who are doing really great work too,” Wagoner said.
The BIPOC Liberation Collective
The BIPOC Liberation Collective frequently focuses on intersectionality and education,. often employing teach-ins where attendees can learn about the history of racism in Oregon, anti-capitalism and LGBTQ+ history.
BLC doesn’t advocate for property destruction or violence, but members have said they don’t condemn any tactic people use to fight oppressive systems.
The collective calls to dismantle the police and carceral systems as a first step in “a long journey of dismantling the systems of violence and oppression that work to harm and disenfranchise Black, Indigenous and People of Color,” according to a post on Instagram.
FIGHTING FOR CHANGE: This summer’s biggest protests
“Say Their Names” protest
The BIPOC Liberation Collective held an anti-racist protest on June 7 at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza, as well as other parts of Eugene.
After holding a teach-in at the soon-to-be renamed Deady Hall, the crowd of a few hundred marched to EPD headquarters, where protesters removed pro-police signs that had recently been fixed to boards covering windows. Phrases like “ACAB” and “fuck 12” were spray painted in several areas. Soon after, the protest moved back downtown where the protesters left from.
The BIPOC Liberation Collective hosted a teach-in at Deady Hall on June 13, six days after the “Say Their Names” protest. Speakers discussed the history of racism in Oregon when individuals not associated with the organization encouraged those present to protest the Pioneer and Pioneer Mother statues.
Using ropes, sledgehammers and axes, both statues were eventually toppled. Initially, the group planned to throw the Pioneer statue in the Willamette River but decided instead to drag it up the Johnson Hall steps — leaving a trail of destruction and blocking the entrance.
Both statues have been placed in storage until the university decides what to do with them.
Both June 19 — or Juneteenth — and the next day saw large celebrations for the holiday hosted by two separate groups.
Black Unity held the first event at Skinner Butte Park, featuring music, food trucks and guest speakers from within the community. It was the largest event in Eugene since the May 31 #BlackLivesMatter protest hosted by BLAC and saw thousands of people throughout the day.
BLAC held their own Juneteenth celebration the next day at Alton Baker Park, where an estimated 2,000 people attended. The event was set up with booths in a semicircle around a mainstage that sold food, art and other items produced by Black-owned businesses.
Counter-protester drives into protester
Over the course of the weekend of June 26, Black Unity held two protests in Springfield that saw resistance from both counter-protesters and Springfield Police Department.
The organization held a Children’s March on June 28 in Eugene. At the end of a peaceful event with many kids and parents in attendance, a counter-protester — reportedly one that was in an altercation with protesters in Thurston two days prior — attempted to drive through the remaining crowd as they crossed a turnabout.
Striking Wagoner, the driver fled. Protesters found him, and a standoff between EPD and the protesters ensued. After over half an hour, EPD took the man in for questioning — but has since been released, with no charges filed.
Wagoner was released from RiverBend Hospital with internal bleeding and is recovering. A GoFundMe in his support raised over $13,000 within one day of the incident.
WORKING TOWARD CHANGE: How Eugene institutions are changing
Board of trustees votes to rename Deady Hall
The UO board of trustees meeting had been in session for three hours on June 4 when trustee Andrew Colas spoke about Matthew Deady. Deady was the namesake for the first building on campus, Deady Hall. He was the first president of the UO Board of Regents in 1873. He was also a pro-slavery delegate for the Oregon constitutional convention.
Colas asked for a board vote to rename Deady Hall, since the board of trustees holds sole power in renaming campus buildings and areas. “I am calling on all of you to take action,” Colas said, “and we have to take action firmly for the sake of our institution and for the sake of our country.”
The board unanimously voted June 24 to rename Deady Hall as University Hall, until a proper name was chosen. “As a university, we can play a very important role in creating societal change,” Schill said.
School board vote to extend SROs contract until December 2020
Student Resource Officers came from a partnership between EPD and Bethel and 4J school districts, according to the city of Eugene’s website. Officers work in high schools to “maintain a presence in the school community,” the website stated. However, school board member Martina Shabram said at the board’s June 17 meeting that law enforcement in schools does harm to students of color.
The program’s contract was set to expire at the end of June, and the 4J school board convened on June 17 to consider whether to renew it. The board ultimately decided to renew the contract until December 31, with an understanding that SROs would be removed from 4J schools after the contract expired.
Springfield City Council funds police body cameras
The Springfield City Council met June 8 to deliberate over proposed budget adjustments to compensate for the financial impacts of COVID-19. Funding for the SPD’s body-worn camera program, which the board had approved earlier this year, was up for possible funding reduction. The proposed budget adjustments showed that the program would cost around $350,000 a year, but would cost around $155,000 to get started.
Springfield Mayor Christine Lundberg recommended fully funding and initiating the program. She said the board heard the recent concerns from community members over the proposed removal of the project’s funds, and said that she agreed.
Springfield city councillors agreed unanimously to have body cameras removed from the proposed budget cuts, and to fund the program. SPD chief Richard Lewis projected that all officers would have cameras by February 2021. Only one SPD officer currently wears a body camera, according to KVAL.