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Portland Human Rights Commision
Human Rights Commissioner reflects on racial tension following teen’s death in hometown
August 15, 2014

A week ago today, Sonji Young prepared for her work day much like any other person. However, on August 9th, her life’s normalcy and peace came to a screeching halt, following the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed teen killed by an officer in the suburban St. Louis County neighborhood where she lived for 31 years.

The news of Brown’s death prompted immediate unrest in Ferguson, a short distance from where Young’s home stands today. “Michael was not just a cherished youth of our African-American community, he was and should be revered as one of America’s sons.” she somberly expressed. Young noted that the deeply rooted inequity and injustice she experienced living in St. Louis is still “alive and well.” She went on to say that “the gloom cast by racism has scourged a mourning community, bringing attention to an epidemic of disregard and exclusion of black men and women.”

As Ferguson emerges from the fifth night of protests, she anticipates calmer and more peaceful conditions. “The appointment of Captain Ron Johnson – a fellow Riverview Gardens alum and member of the Ferguson community – has given the residents a sense of relief,” she stressed. Young believes that Johnson’s track record of inclusive community engagement will restore hope. “As the Brown family and community pursue justice, Captain Johnson’s demilitarized tactics will bring about calm, enabling everyone to focus on the steps.”

Young’s work as Chair of Portland’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) sheds light on the difficult, yet necessary, work that lies ahead. “Brown’s death illuminates challenges many cities - including Portland - must work together to address in partnership with the community: police accountability and the loss of trust in law enforcement”. The HRC’s Community Police Relations (CPRC) and Law Enforcement Review Committees aim to close the divide between police, policy, and the community. “Faith in our community without works is dead,” Young stated. As seen in the world coverage of this tragedy, Young feels that “it will take a commitment to transparency, inter-group dialogue, and inclusion to overcome the oppression communities of color and youth are facing across the country.”

The Portland Human Rights Commission works to eliminate discrimination and bigotry, to strengthen inter-group relationships, and to foster greater understanding, inclusion, and justice for those who live, work, study, worship, travel and play in the City of Portland.

For more information, please contact Sonji Young at

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