Who gets to label you?

I recently read a Mercury article titled “The good fight” by Dirk VanderHart that is describing the increase in gangs this summer here in Portland where he interviews one of Portland’s finest about profiling young black males and the officer says “It’s not racial profiling it’s just profiling – we all do it.”

I’ve lived as a person of color in Portland for 24 years and am a Native Native Oregonian. Escaping from a severe domestic violence on the East coast with two children I was trafficked on 82nd avenue and jumped into a gang as an affiliate.

To the Police my label was gang affiliate/prostitute, drug addict and dealer and because they first arrested me under a false name the PPB for years insisted that my alias was my real name and my real name was my alias.

Years later, as an advocate for Victims of Human Trafficking we helped to change the conversation police were giving to underage girls they arrested. They would tell them “you’re a victim if you tell on your pimp and you’re a criminal if you don’t.” Actually underage girls who have been raped and beaten are victims no matter what and because there is no witness protection program for them it is not always in their best interest to tell.

While I spent the first 28 ears as a model citizen, the 5 years I spent trying to get out of trouble are for the system my most memorable. In 1993, after serving time for someone else, and losing my 4.0 education, my kids, my home and everything in it I decided there was nothing about gang affiliation that benefited me and I struggled through  the all the red tape of systems to make it back to my original self and purpose and as a part of that I also wanted to encourage others to do the same..


So I tend to cringe every time I see stories in Portland that try to address race problems written by white folks about black folks- or in my case brown folks. I just know as I read them that I’m probably going to feel extremely agitated by the end of the story because of the total lack of race analysis on the part of the writer. The message I always get is “White people good ~ all others are dangerous and need to be feared so whatever happens to them – they deserved it.”

In this particular article the mention my nephew , may he rest in peace, Andreas Jones~Dixon. After being shot to death the news shows his mom totally losing it. Depending on who you are you saw the story differently. As a mom , you may have felt her pain and shock and realized that its was a nightmare of all moms. As a resident who doesn’t live around this type of action or a young person who has seen too much of it you may be numbed by what you hear either because you’ve seen too much of it or you don’t live close enough to you to care. As long as the action is concentrated into a pocket of poverty in East Portland it’s OK because it’s not touching you. It only happens to “Those other people”While the news said it had not YET been determined to be a gang-related the article in the Mercury states Dre was a gang member.

At his memorial on the corner of where he took his last breathe -people talked about how he had gotten away from the life and how he was doing better. He came from a deeply spiritual home life with a mother that took care not only of her own but many others. And for a while he had fallen off the path. But when I saw him by PCC two weeks before he was shot he came up and gave me a hug and told me how he was happy and doing well. He knew how I would feel about that because I am a first hand believer in change.

So I ask you again, who gets to label you because you will be labeled and those that label you may not know you. Clearly the writer on some level believed the police and didn’t bother to ask anyone else.

My next piece I will write is about whether or not their is redemption for past faults or is it only for certain people. It’s been brewing in my mind for a long time and is going to be good.

About jerisw1

Activist, artist , story teller ,writer currently working for the City Office of Neighborhood Involvement.
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