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Portland NAACP President On Protests As A 'White Spectacle'


We're going to go back now to Portland, Ore., where protests continued last night despite or perhaps because of the presence of federal agents. The state's attorney general failed in her bid to restrict federal agents from patrolling the city. But as the protests have gone on for weeks, some are starting to feel that the original intention of the protests has been lost and that a new direction is called for. Pastor E.D. Mondaine is the president of the Portland NAACP, and he is one of those people. He wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post this week headlined, "Portland's Protests Were Supposed To Be About Black Lives. Now They're White Spectacle." And we called him to find out more about what he thinks. Pastor E.D. Mondaine, thanks so much for talking with us.

E D MONDAINE: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: Let me just go to the piece that you wrote. It's gently worded, but it's very tough in its message. You said that I don't believe it's a time for spectacle; unfortunately, spectacle is now the best way to describe Portland's protests. Vandalizing government buildings and hurling projectiles at law enforcement draw attention. But how do these actions stop police from killing Black people? Was there a particular moment in the course of all this that made you feel this way? I mean, in your piece, you speak about the woman who's being described as Naked Athena...


MARTIN: ...The protester who's had this unclothed confrontation. She was photographed doing yoga poses while wearing only a face mask. Is that the tipping point for you which you thought to yourself that this is not what we're talking about here?

MONDAINE: That is definitely the tipping point for me. I mean, this is the same woman that - my great-great-uncle was lynched for just speaking to a white woman. This is what led to the death of Emmett Till. So when we see these well-intentioned - I'm hoping - opportunities being seized, I think that we need to remember that this is exactly why Black men were lynched in America and what a slap in the face it is for us. Now, I'm hoping, again, that that wasn't her intention. But the intention is this - justice, equality and fair play. We need our seat at the table, and we need it right now.

MARTIN: OK. But what - the wall of moms aren't walking around naked. They say they're out there because they want to be allies. Are they wrong?

MONDAINE: No, they're not wrong. They want to be allies, and they want to be friends. But I think that their efforts would be better utilized if they were to be behind Black Lives Matter movement and strategize with us as how we take it another level. They need to be with us in the city square and stand behind our voices. They need to be with us in the classrooms and the boardrooms. They need to be with us in the halls of justice. They need to be crying for the legislature to change its laws.

MARTIN: And I also want to talk - go back to what you said in your piece. You said that the president and his allies want spectacle, be it a naked yogi or the next shocking display of force. They need to distract the country by engaging our movement in empty battles where they have the advantage. You say that if we engage them now, we do so on their terms, where they have created the conditions for a war without rules, without accountability and without the protection of our Constitution.

You know, this reminds me of - one of the points that Martin Luther King made is that part of his argument for nonviolence was not just a moral argument; it was a practical argument. His argument is that the demonstrators would always be outgunned. And, therefore, if they were to force this confrontation, that it was not going to go well, that the whole point was to sort of open the eyes of the American people as it were, is that part of what you're saying here, is that this has reached the point that the costs are outweighing the benefits?

MONDAINE: Indubitably. I don't think that I could've said it any better. It's time for us to take it away from the streets and take it to where it needs to be. And I'll tell you this. Martin Luther King also told us that there was a new unsettling force being loose upon the shores of America, and it was going to become more about human rights than it was civil rights. We're seeing another type of poor man now. We're not seeing the indigent illiterate. We're seeing the blue-collar worker that has now become one paycheck away from houselessness. And I tell you what. When we look at ourselves being on the bottom, the numbers don't lie. And when you start from the bottom, everybody rises.

MARTIN: That's the Reverend E.D. Mondaine. He is president of the Portland NAACP, and we're talking about a piece that he wrote in The Washington Post calling for a new direction for these street protests. He says it's time to redirect that energy into other paths. Reverend Mondaine, thanks so much for talking to us.

MONDAINE: Oh, I'm so grateful to talk to you. And thank you for helping us push the agenda along for equality. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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