Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A sign of thanks rests against a traffic light pole at a memorial outside the transit center in Portland, Ore., on May 27. ( Photo: Gillian Flaccus/AP)

Give the Portland Heroes the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Betsy Karasik

As we honored and remembered over the Memorial Day weekend so many who have died for justice and freedom, I found myself inordinately haunted by the Portland, Ore., stabbing of three men who came to the defense of two young women being bullied and harassed, allegedly by a white supremacist hurling anti-Muslim slurs. Two of the men died in the attack. The third was hospitalized in serious condition.

I nominate these three men — heroes all — for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This medal, the highest civilian award given in the United States, recognizes those who have made “especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

I nominate these three heroes because President Trump has a moral obligation to recognize them as martyrs in the battle for human rights. Good Samaritans who spontaneously rose up against hateful bigotry and harassment, these men placed themselves in harm’s way in defense of strangers. Two paid the ultimate price: Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche was a recent Reed College graduate in economics who had his whole life before him; Ricky John Best served this country in the U.S. Army for 23 years and was a devoted husband and father. Micah Fletcher, still recovering from his wounds, is a poet who won a 2013 competition with a poem against anti-Muslim prejudice.

Inominate these three heroes because Trump has a moral obligation to counteract the dangerous way in which he has fanned the flames of racism and xenophobia. In fall 2015, white nationalist Matthew Heimbach wrote: “Donald Trump is blowing the dog whistle for White racial interests harder than any other candidate.” In 2016, the incidence of hate crimes rose 23.3 percent, according to Brian Levin of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino. Now, as the Trump administration overtly targets Muslims and other immigrants for vilification, the dog whistle has become a siren.

On Monday, Trump did state in his presidential Twitter account (@POTUS) that the attack was “unacceptable.” But Twitter commentary does not substitute for leadership, not on an issue of this magnitude, and it is worth noting that Trump didn’t bother to mention the incident to the 30,000,000 followers of his personal Twitter feed (@realDonaldTrump), a nuance that telegraphs the priorities of this administration.

If the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, so is the price of equality. When leaders normalize racism and bigotry, society can be quick to follow suit. This hideous hate crime will leave a terrible psychic scar on the families of the victims and on the nation, but it has also created a teachable moment. No award can heal the damage done by such a monstrosity, but by conveying the highest civilian honor on these beautiful individuals, the Trump administration can honor three shining examples of American values at their best.

Betsy Karasik

Betsy Karasik is a writer based in Washington, D.C..

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

'Stand With Us': Indigenous Line 3 Opponents Seek Allies to Fight Tar Sands Pipeline

"We need everyone who can to come to the frontlines in support. We need those who can't come here in person to amplify this message through every available channel."

Brett Wilkins ·

'Unimaginably Catastrophic': Researchers Fear Gulf Stream System Could Collapse

"Scientists say we cannot allow this to happen. People in power stand in our way."

Jessica Corbett ·

Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott Calls Another Special Session to Attack Voting Rights

Republicans "waging war on our right to vote failed to pass anti-democratic legislation in the regular session and the last special session," said one advocate. "Texans are ready to make sure they fail again."

Kenny Stancil ·

'Time Is Running Out': Progressives Press Biden to Extend Student Loan Moratorium

"These are matters of life and death for people," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal.

Julia Conley ·

'Fearless and Peerless' Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO Leader, Dead at 72

The labor leader is being remembered as "a relentless champion of workers' rights, workplace safety, worker-centered trade, democracy, and so much more."

Andrea Germanos ·