Black Unity Returns to Thurston

On Aug. 3, Black Unity returned to Jesse Maine Memorial Park to protest the Springfield Police Department–and the so-called Springfield Neighborhood Watch–hosted “National Night Out in your Neighborhood Park.” 

There were two other events at Meadow Park and Volunteer Park. 

This event—held five days after the year anniversary of Black Unity’s protest in Thurston which resulted in a lawsuit against the city and others—began at 6 p.m. and was attended by Mayor VanGordon, City Manager Nancy Newton, Councilman Joe Pishioneri, officers with SPD, and members of the Neighborhood Watch. A few families were present and many kids played with balloons. 

At 6:35 p.m., an unassuming black party-bus arrived and parked along the curb in front of the park. The sight of the bus confused those present.City Manager Newton turned to Mayor VanGordon and said “wouldn’t it be funny if [SPD Chief] Shearer stepped out of that thing?” 

Instead, it was Black Unity. 

About a dozen protesters emerged from the bus and formed a line facing towards the park. Tyshawn Ford held a megaphone, using its siren feature, until they were all in a line, holding up black-and-white photographs and signs with officers’ quotes from the year prior. 

Black Unity’s Tyshawn Ford speaks through a megaphone as others held signs black-and-white photographs and quotes from officers in commemoration of what happened on July 29, 2020. [Chance Raffield // Double Sided Media]

“Attention Springfield police, and racist Thurston residents who call themselves ‘the neighbor watch,’” Ford said into his megaphone. “Did you forget that a year ago on July 29th you all attacked a group of innocent, peaceful protesters at this exact location?” 

He reminded everyone that the City of Springfield, then-Police Chief Richard Lewis, and over two dozen officers are involved in a federal civil rights lawsuit from Black Unity and the Civil Liberties Defense Center.

Then, he read off transcriptions of what some of the officers said over the radio that night and asked Mayor VanGordon why he would allow for this event to go on as planned at this location following several complaints.

Tyshawn Ford speaks through a megaphone towards those gathered for the “National Night Out” event. [Chance Raffield // Double Sided Media]

“It truly is absurd that SPD and chuds going come out there and do a crime prevention event when they are the people who commit crimes against protesters and Black and Brown individuals and make Black people feel unsafe,” Ford continued. “It just goes to show that all y’all care about is protecting white people within your community that align with your views and completely dismiss the demands and fears of the Black and Brown folks in your community.” 

Addressing the crowd about right-wing antagonists—many of which have repeatedly attended protests and started altercations throughout Eugene and Springfield—Ford said “It’s crazy how many times y’all have let Richard [Elce] come out and brutally assault people with his American flag, do nothing, and think we are going to be okay with that, let alone feel safe.”

“Or let’s talk about how [SPD] gave Geena [Shipman] our location on a Facebook stream which then allowed chuds and Proud Boys to come and attack us” he said about last year’s Thurston protest specifically. He continued, “SPD, y’all hyped her up, made her feel that she above the law, but she was so quick to change her views on ‘back the blue’ when she was with the mob that stormed the Oregon capital.” 

Ford continued about last year’s protest. “Not once has the city of Springfield or SPD offered any sort of apologies, shown remorse for what they did to us on July 29th 2020,” he said. “Instead on the one year anniversary they hold a corny “coffee with cops” event and now this?”

He then directed his speech towards City Manager Nancy Newton. 

“And don’t think we forgot about you, Nancy Newton, community members reached out prior to the protest on July 29th and you responded saying ‘I absolutely support your right to protest, and I think your message is an important one,’” he said. “Where is your outrage? Why can’t you publicly admit that what SPD did to us was absolutely disgusting, unlawful, and unconstitutional. You’re just as bad as the rest of them.”

Tyshawn Ford speaks through a megaphone while other members and supporters of Black Unity hold up black-and-white photographs and signs with officers’ quotes. [Chance Raffield // Double Sided Media]

Ending his speech, Ford said “You guys aren’t fooling anyone and continue to prove our point. SPD needs to be abolished and until that happens Black and Brown folks will continue to feel unsafe, continue to receive unjust treatment, and we will continue to protest against racial injustices, and systematic racism.” 

“You know why? Because we have no choice!  Black Lives Matter!” he said. 

Then they were gone. Black Unity and their supporters got back on the party-bus around 10 minutes after they arrived and departed. 

The crowd at the event looked largely unfazed.

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