USA TODAY US Edition

Honor Portland’s heroes by honoring free speech

-

Heroism is instinctiv­e, an action taken in a split second of crisis to save a life, defend deeply held values, or simply stand up for what’s right.

Such heroism was on display last week in Portland, Ore., when the loud, ugly voice of hate drew three men to intervene as Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, ranted and verbally abused two teenage girls, one of them wearing a Muslim head scarf. The three men tried to calm the situation on the lightrail commuter train while Christian spewed his bile about blacks and Muslims.

Tragically, Christian lashed out at the women’s defenders with a knife, killing two of them with horrific precision and injuring the third, according to police.

As Christian fled the train, Rick Best, a 53-year-old veteran and city worker, lay fatally wounded. Taliesin Myrddin NamkaiMech­e, 23, a recent college graduate with his life before him, was pronounced dead at a hospital. College student Micah Fletcher, 21, was stabbed but narrowly escaped fatal injury.

All three put themselves at risk, seemingly without a thought for their own safety, to help two young strangers. The term “hero” is too often tossed around casually, but here it is the perfect fit.

The incident has drawn tributes from across the shaken city, which was rife with conflict even before the horrific killings. And while Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has called on citizens to honor the heroes, who died in defense of decency, he has turned his back on another American value: freedom of speech.

Wheeler asked federal authoritie­s to revoke a permit for a rally planned for Sunday on a federal plaza in downtown Portland and refused to grant a city permit for a “March Against Sharia” on June 10. Both events are sponsored by a group called Patriot Prayer, which bills Sunday’s event as a “Trump Free Speech Rally” in “one of the most liberal areas of the West Coast.”

The mayor’s trepidatio­n about violence is understand­able. In recent months, groups from the extreme right and extreme left have clashed violently at Portland rallies. But that doesn’t make attempts to block the upcoming rallies right or legal.

The Supreme Court, joined by lower courts, has repeatedly rejected efforts to stifle so-called hate speech or speech that might provoke violence. It is up to public officials to prevent violence, not speech. On Wednesday, federal authoritie­s rejected Wheeler’s request, even as rally organizers discussed moving the June 10 event to Seattle.

Free speech is already under siege on too many college campuses, as students block controvers­ial speakers. To see a mayor attempt to banish speech from the public square undermines cherished freedoms.

Like other disturbed young men, Christian is a jumble of passions and hate. He espoused support for Bernie Sanders, then for Donald Trump. Christian’s appearance at an earlier rally is no reason to prevent others from speaking.

Popular speech to peaceful crowds is easy to defend. The least popular speech needs the most protection. The best way to honor Portland’s heroes, who stood up for their beliefs, is to stand up for core U.S. values.

 ?? GILLIAN FLACCUS, AP ?? Candles memorializ­ing Rick Best, left, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche.
GILLIAN FLACCUS, AP Candles memorializ­ing Rick Best, left, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States