Updated: Jan 11, 2021
Don’t Shoot PDX was founded by Teressa Raiford, who started the humanitarian aid effort in 2014. “It started because of gang violence and the lack of investigation around people who are victims of gang violence and police brutality from an incident that happened with my little cousin who was murdered. My mom started advocating for herself, for her family- trying to figure out why he was failed by our system.” Tai Carpenter said. Tai is Don’t Shoot PDX’s founder Teresa Raiford's daughter; who took over the presidency of the black-led non-profit this summer.
“Once she realized the system was designed that way, I think it revealed a larger picture of racism in America and discrimination in America and how by educating ourselves we can use that knowledge as a weapon against it and we can rise up and use our voices.” Don’t Shoot’s platform hosts a broad range of community advocacy with legal referral clinics for- victims of domestic violence, tenants whose rights have been violated and other community issues.
Another component of Don’t Shoot’s community advocacy work are the workshops they host in conjunction with the City of Portland Archives. “We love to incorporate Oregon’s past into the future and the present of what we have so we can see the history of these tools and how the system was built to oppress instead of enrich and empower.” Tai also mentioned that Don’t Shoot procures donations to distribute through their mutual aid work for the Portland community and our unsheltered neighbors year round. When the pandemic hit they pivoted their focus within their mutual aid practice onto PPE, hygiene items, grocery items and meals to families in need.
Don’t Shoot's primary focus is on Portland’s youth. Before the pandemic they offered childcare for families in need during school breaks and during these breaks they would offer the children programming where they would; “Enrich the kids and educate them about different black leaders, different black scholars, writers and artists.” Throughout the rest of the year they also hosted art workshops and programming- including teaming up with Portland Art Museum to curate art exhibitions for the children, by the children. “To me art is a powerful tool for social change. Especially put into the hands of the youth. It teaches kids that there is a place for them in elitist institutions.”
Portland is one of the whitest cities in America, founded on stolen; Chinook, Multnomah, Wasco, Cowlitz, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Tualatin, Kulapuya, and Molalla indigenous land. The state wrote 3 separate black exclusion laws in its constitution. One of them barring African-Americans from entering or living in the state, in hopes that it would develop primarily as a white only region. If an enslaved or freed African-American refused to leave, they were subject to the Peter Burnetts Lash Law; one of the states very first laws calling for the lashing of the individual who refused to leave their home in the region.
The state’s archives will tell you that Oregon’s early immigrants were not necessarily pro-slavery but they opposed to living alongside African-Americans; free or not. This original school of thought echoes in today’s society in Oregon. The racism here in the 33rd state is not as transparent as you see in the southeast states but hidden behind closed doors and underlined in passive aggressive tones of the Oregonians' breath.
In 1860, one year after the state was founded, the African-American population was 128, out of the total population of 52,465 people. According to the U.S. Census in 2019, Oregon’s black population was only 2.2% where as Portland was at 5.7%. Portland’s imprisoned demographics as of 2018 consists of 22.7% of African Americans an alarming percentage considering the city’s population is less than 6%. I think that it is no coincidence that the whitest city in the country is also leading the country in police brutality cases as the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests began flooding the streets.
When George Floyd was publicly murdered, protests broke out nationwide and Portland took the lead in protesting day and night for over 100 days in a row. Protests still continue nightly, surpassing day 200 just weeks ago. Don’t Shoot responded in support of the protests by sourcing first aid kits, banners, screen printed posters, megaphones and other protest supplies and hosting youth led marches themselves.
Back in July, the Trump administration dispatched DHS and Bortac agents to commit war crimes upon the protesters downtown. They administered impact ammunition and riot control agents otherwise known as CS, CN or Tear Gas. The community confided in Don’t Shoot about gas pouring into their homes, missing their periods as a result of being gassed, people being brutalized by the police nightly, and target arrests. Don’t Shoot responded to the community’s worries that these riot control agents were doing some serious, long term damage by filing their first lawsuit against the city of Portland on June 5th, 2020 regarding the indiscriminate use of tear gas.
The city banned tear gas in response to the Don't Shoot’s lawsuit but the Portland Police Bureau blatantly ignored the ordinance and still continue to utilize riot control agents against protesters today. Tai said, “It shows that they (the PPB) didn’t care about the law. It shows that they really just wanted to hurt people. They didn’t care that we won the ban and that a lot of people have never even been able to see a ban against police officers. A lot of the lawyers were like; we have never seen this done before, this is amazing. But that’s what is scary, is the fact that they were willing to do anything to continue to hurt people. They don’t care if it’s gonna cost them their jobs.”
In the movement there is a division in vision on the leftist side. One that supports defunding the police which entails cutting the PPB’s budget and reallocating that money into community support programs and coalitions. Such as teams of mental health specialists that would be dispatched in response to mental health crises instead of the police who are not trained in this field. The idea of defunding the police entails keeping a small police force to respond to the murderers and rapists. The other side are abolitionists- who believe in disbanding the police entirely echoing the past as reform has proven to have no success. These budget cuts would be reallocated into programs that are more equipped and trained to take on the task on hand. Don’t Shoot PDX as an entirety is for abolition.
In 2021 Don’t Shoot plans on continuing their mutual aid efforts, distributing meals every Friday to over 200 families. The archival workshops will be re-launched sometime in the new year. Don’t Shoot is also taking the lead on the ‘Reclaim MLK March’ on January 18th. For newsletters, donation links and more info on Don’t Shoot PDX go to www.dontshootpdx.org . “I think the most important thing 2020 has taught us is that no one has got us, except for us” Tai said- echoing the saying we have in the resistance community in Portland; "We take care of us."
To watch the entire interview check it out on TWB's youtube channel-
Episode 7- Don't Shoot PDX