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Effort to Save Black Lives Called White Supremacy

Portland seeks to raise awareness of earthquake danger, faces misplaced backlash.

In October of 2018, Portland, OR, city leaders passed a city ordinance requiring that un-reinforced masonry structures display signs warning residents and visitors of earthquake dangers. These structures, most of which are in historic and older districts of Portland, are particularly susceptible to damage during earthquakes. Since scientists have warned that the Cascadia Subduction Zone could rupture in an “enormous” quake causing the Washington, Oregon and Northern California coasts to be “unrecognizable”, warning residents of the dangers of the loose bricks around them seems eminently prudent. The Portland NAACP, though, says this is just another attempt to drive black residents out of the city.

Portland NAACP leader Reverend E.D. Mondainé , according to the Oregonian, stated that the new ordinance targets black and poorer sections of the city and that it is meant to drive black residents out of their home. Other speakers referred to the signage requirement as a “secret lien”, despite the fact that the city ordinance only requires a sign warning of the dangers of living and working in un-reinforced masonry buildings during a major quake. City leaders do not require (often prohibitively) expensive retrofitting for these buildings, or different insurance permitting standards. All they require is a sign. But, because the signs would appear more often in black neighborhoods, the Reverend Mondainé has determined that this is an effort at erasing black citizens from Portland.

Were the leaders of Portland to let residents and visitors to their city continue being ignorant of the danger they face from thousands of tons of bricks and stone falling on their heads during an earthquake, you can be sure that the NAACP local chapter would call that an effort to eliminate minority and poor residents. If the city were requiring all owners of the buildings in question to reinforce or replace those buildings, the case that this is an effort at “stealth gentrification” would be more solid. But, again, all the ordinance requires is a sign. They are actively trying to educate, and thereby protect, residents—ALL residents—of Portland about natural disaster dangers.

The movement of the earth’s tectonic plates determine where and when an earthquake will strike. The laws of physics determine how structures will react to the surface and body waves generated by earthquakes. The city of Portland passed a law trying to educate people about these facts. For their potentially life-saving efforts, they are called racist and backwards.

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