Side Note

Twenty-Five billboards inside Portland, Oregon

Residents of what is often called the “whitest city in America” are seeing a new ad campaign across town. Portland Equity in Action, a community action group focused on anti-racist efforts, announced yesterday that 25 billboards decrying racism are going up around the Oregon city. In addition to signs bearing slogans like “Black Lives Matter” “Black Narrative” and “Portland, Is Your White Fragility Showing?” select billboards call attention to cases of racist killings.

One featuring a photo of Larnell Bruce, Jr. — a 19-year-old who died in nearby Gresham, Oregon, in 2016 when two people with white supremacist ties chased and struck him with their car — includes the statistic that Oregon is home to 21 active white supremacist groups. (According to the billboard, that number is a compilation of hate group numbers from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League, and Rose City Antifa.) Another features a childhood photo of Terrell Johnson who died in 2017 at the age of 24 after a Portland transit officer shot and killed him. “Where was my presumption of innocence?” the billboard reads. Both Bruce and Johnson were black.

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“Through this campaign, we hope to demand public attention for the unjust nature of the deaths of Terrell Johnson and Larnell Bruce Jr. at the hands of law enforcement and white supremacists, and ignite change in policy and policing that criminalizes and victimizes certain members of our community, rather than protecting and serving all of us,” reads a statement on the PDX Billboard Project website. With its design and demand for accountability, the campaign is reminiscent of the billboards in the popular 2017 film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. That movie was criticized for its lack of racial sensitivity, but it did get one thing right: A giant billboard is indeed a great way to get someone’s attention.