Please, for the sake of Dora McCrae

A recent Willamette Week article (“A House Divided,” April 4) reported that the local extension of the civil rights organization, NAACP, has been fractured by rabid internal dissent. It appears that some controversy over the election of the current leadership has led many members to question the validity of the election and thus the authority of the results (sound familiar?).

At a March 24 meeting, things got so ugly that the meeting was adjourned after only 15 minutes. It looked more like an XFL game than a civil rights meeting. What organizers hoped would be a time to air grievances and discuss a plan of action quickly turned into what the Willamette Week article called “a profanity-spiced shouting match that seemed headed for blows.”

At the center of this debate is the case of Dora McCrea. McCrea is a 70-year-old African-American woman who was nearly given the Rodney King treatment by an over-zealous Portland police officer during a routine traffic stop in 1998. One faction of the Portland NAACP feels that Roy Jay, the current president of the local chapter, has all but ignored McCrea’s case as it has progressed all the way up to the desk of Chief (Grand Dragon) Mark Kroeker.

According to the WW article, Jay’s response to the rising tide of angry people is simply that McCrea might increase her chances of support if she were a paying member of the organization. This sounds like the type of protection my dad used to offer Asian shopkeepers in New York, if you know what I mean.

Jay is apparently too busy to help actual black people, choosing instead to quash controversial Willamette Week columnists, like Callahan’s “Rock and Roll Nigger” cartoon or trying to put the clamps on the movie reviewer (himself an African-American) who said that Spike Lee should be beat “like a runaway slave.”Maybe he is too busy to help people because he is fighting to save his job (which is helping people). Sure, disagreement among members of civil activist groups is nothing new, but of late, the voices of dissent have begun to drown out the cries of those that the organization was created to protect.

I have something to say to the Portland branch of the NAACP. First of all, don’t panic. The hostility displayed at the recent meeting is far better than indifference. People who are willing to scream and fight over something are people who care deeply for it.

The world moves on and the power structures that produce the codes of racial oppression continue to inject their bile into our culture. I just hope the NAACP uses this period of unrest to their advantage. W.E.B. Dubois once said, “If, however, the vistas disclosed as yet no goal, no resting-place, little but flattery and criticism, the journey at least gave leisure for reflection and self-examination.”

Portland, although pretending to be a racially inclusive and tolerant city (at least that is what all of my upper-class white friends keep telling me), is a town with very real, very deep, very widespread and very complex racial issues. To make matters worse, you now have a police chief that is about as friendly to your cause, to our cause, as the Catholic Church was to Galileo’s.

If the people you are supposed to be helping are turned away because they have not paid their membership fees or because to help them would divert precious time and resources from the more pressing matters of internal political maneuvering, then the organization has become the very monster it was created to destroy.

Apparently things are so good in Portland that a formidable enemy cannot be found. Maybe there is no one else to fight so they are fighting each other. To sustain an organization predicated on the drive for social change requires a common goal, which usually ends up being a common enemy.

Having said that, I must unfortunately qualify my unbridled civic optimism with the following caveat: Come on people! Get it together for God’s sake! Look, if you want to spend the rest of your lives arguing and spitting at each other, be my guest. But the consequences of your actions are severe. People actually need your help. Dora McCrae needs your help.