Hillary Clinton condemned the horrific, racist attack in Portland that killed two men during a Thursday speech, connecting it to increased hate and the White House’s “actions that turn us against one another and turn us back.”
Clinton gave the keynote address at the commencement ceremony for Medgar Evers, a college in Brooklyn, New York. While the nation’s attention was turned to former FBI director James Comey’s testimony at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Clinton stayed silent on the revelations about his conversations with President Donald Trump, instead urging the graduating class to remember that “the work of justice is never finished.”
“The first months of this year saw a surge in hate crimes across our country,” Clinton said. “White supremacists are emboldened, and their numbers on the rise.”
She reminded the audience of the May 26 stabbing on a Portland commuter train, when Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, allegedly stabbed three men who defended two teenage girls from Christian’s “racist, xenophobic tirade,” as Clinton put it. One of the girls was wearing a hijab, and Christian reportedly made comments such as telling the girls to go back to Saudi Arabia.
Ricky John Best, 53, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23, died in the attack. Micah David-Cole Fletcher, 21, was seriously injured but survived.
“They stepped in front of those girls to block the abuse,” Clinton said. “Other passengers rushed forward to comfort and pray with the victims, and one victim’s last words as he was carried away by paramedics echoes what [Medgar Evers College President Rudolph Crew] said at the very beginning of this ceremony: ‘Tell everyone on this train that I love them.’”
That quote was remembered by one of the passengers on the train, Rachel Macy, who told local Oregon Live that she had comforted Namkai-Meche after he was stabbed in the neck.
Namkai-Meche’s last words and the heroic actions in the face of hate “showed us the best and worst of humanity among us,” Clinton said Thursday.
“At the last minute of his life he was thinking of love ― love for those he knew and love for total strangers,” she said.
Clinton said that in light of the surge of acts of hate, both the nation’s leaders and the public must “recommit ourselves to the urgent work of protecting the safety and civil rights of all of our people, not moving in the opposite direction, undoing the progress that we have made.”
“Instead, we see official actions that turn us against one another and turn us back,” she said.
She highlighted Trump’s “Muslim ban,” as well as the Department of Justice’s limited interest in protecting voting rights and the Department of Education’s signal that it won’t defend the civil rights of LGBTQ students.
“The Muslim ban is a particularly egregious example ― and yes, it is a ban, as the president himself made very clear this week,” Clinton said. “But you know, attacks on civil rights don’t have to be dramatic to be dangerous.”
CORRECTION: Due to an editorial error, this article initially misstated that the men killed in Portland were from Oklahoma.