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Black Civil Rights Leaders In Oregon Say Now Is The Time For Change

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Civil rights leaders in Portland are working to clarify what they want from weeks of protests there. They're pushing back against critics who claim that they're led by radical groups who just want unrest. The leaders have released a plan called Reimagine Oregon, which they say will begin to dismantle systematic racism. Here's NPR's Kirk Siegler.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: As Attorney General Bill Barr was telling Congress yesterday that the Portland protests amount to an assault on the U.S. government, prominent local Black leaders said the time is now to bring about real change. Kali Thorne Ladd helped form a coalition called Reimagine Oregon during the past 60 days of protests.

KALI THORNE LADD: And it's no surprise that the federal government is using dehumanizing tactics even now to quiet our protest. The late and great John Lewis also marched in peaceful protests for our civil rights and had his head bashed in with a club.

SIEGLER: In their two-year plan, civil rights leaders are demanding changes such as decriminalizing fare evasion on Portland transit. They want more money for Black maternal and mental health and for a Black-led study on improving public safety. They also want the state to ban chokeholds.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: No justice. No peace.

SIEGLER: All of this comes as some in Portland have begun to question how much longer these nightly clashes will continue, especially lately, with accusations that anarchists are co-opting it all. Civil rights leaders here like Katrina Holland (ph) say they don't promote violent tactics. But there was a rift about that in the 1960s movement, too.

KATRINA HOLLAND: It is the language of the unheard. Perhaps we should stop casting stones on the fact that people choose to set fire to a building or take a rock through a window and acknowledge the pain that's behind that and acknowledge the root of what is causing that.

SIEGLER: These protests have again shined a light on Oregon's ugly roots going all the way back to its statehood in 1859, when the state constitution prohibited Blacks from living here.

Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Portland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.