Last month, four white males, allegedly drunk and stoned, crossed the bridge from Vancouver into NE Portland. According to police reports, they leveled a sawed-off shotgun from their car at what they believed were black-owned homes and cars, and began blasting out windows. They also pointed their gun directly at one African American man. After a car chase with police in hot pursuit, the four young men--the oldest is 21--were caught and, last week, indicted by a grand jury for hate crimes.

But the story doesn't end there. The FBI is currently conducting a civil rights investigation of the incident, and last Saturday morning about 400 people gathered at the NE police precinct along MLK Blvd to voice their collective concern about the shootings and a recent spate of other hate crimes across the state.

Speakers warned that the current political environment requires community vigilance against such incidents. The demonstrators also called out to city and state politicians to speak up. So far, they say, the silence from City Hall has been deafening and disturbing.

Roy Tate from the Albina Ministerial Alliance implored city and state leaders to condemn the shooters' actions and to speak out against racism and hate. "Mayor! Governor!" Tate called out. "This is a chance to show everyone that hate is not welcome in Portland." Tate referenced 1999's Day of Acknowledgement, in which state legislators denounced racism in Oregon's past, including the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the mistreatment of migrant farm workers, and the initial exclusion of blacks from the Oregon Territory. Several other states have since followed suit. Tate said, "Oregon must continue to be a leader and a role model in speaking out against hate."

But the past may be easier to deal with than the present, as evidenced by the lack of politicians in attendance and the lack of public comment about the crimes from the mayor's office.

Helen Sherman, second vice president of the Portland NAACP chapter, called to focus more immediate attention on racially motivated incidents. "We didn't hear about racial profiling until it came to the middle class," she said, "and it looks like this is happening with hate crimes."

Though optimistic about the strength of community in combating racist incidents, marchers were reminded repeatedly that hate crimes are on the rise in Portland. Several speakers blamed misguided nationalism.

At one point, Abigail Collins, who moved with her family five months ago back to Portland from South Africa, approached the microphone in tears. On January 12, she explained, her husband was attacked by four men in downtown Portland who mistook him for someone from Afghanistan (he is of Italian descent). The attackers screamed profanities at him, she said, shouting, "Go home, Akmed," and then assaulted him. Despite South Africa's history of apartheid, Collins said its "[race relations] are so advanced compared to here."

In August, in apparently another racially motivated crime, a 25-year-old white male attacked a black man on a Tri-Met bus in SE Portland. The assault left the victim's jaw so shattered that it has taken two reconstructive surgeries to repair the damage.

More recently, in late January, a group of National Guardsmen, who had just returned from duty in the Middle East, attacked a motel owner in Medford. According to police reports, their motivation for the assault was that they believed the man was "an Arab."