Editor's Note: As part of our efforts to educate the Lake Oswego community about race and racism, Respond to Racism is launching a multi-platform storytelling campaign focused on the experiences of people of color called #notanisolatedincident. This project will utilize everything from personal essays to interviews to photos of graffiti and social media screenshots to capture the pervasiveness of racist incidents in this town. Some stories may be familiar because they made the news at some point, but more often than not, these incidents go unreported, giving those who seek to discredit any anti-racist efforts the excuse to pretend LO's racism doesn't exist, or, as is often the case, dismiss any story that makes headlines as an "isolated incident." Our hope is to build such a large database of stories, photos, interviews, and any other form of effective storytelling that we can move beyond the denial and actually make the changes that ensure all members of our community have the opportunity to thrive. If you are interested in submitting your own stories, please reach out to us via direct message on either Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
To kick off the #notanisolatedincident campaign, Lake Oswego High School student Paymonn Afghan has bravely offered to share his story of a troubling experience with LO police and the city court:
Experiences of people have multiple effects depending on which position the person played in the situation. Being treated unfairly and with disrespect based on your appearance is the most harmful feeling a human being should have to feel. Throughout my 17 years of life, I've spent most moments worrying about what people think of me; because of the hurtful things that have been said to me due only to the color of my skin. I walk around everywhere worried somebody will tell me I do not belong or am not welcome. However, I have had to thicken up my skin and become immune to these people because if I don’t and I react the way they want me to, then they have gotten what they wanted and my day has been ruined.
5-2-18 I had a trial in court for a speeding ticket I was wrongfully convicted of. I appeared at 9:15 to the judge sitting in his stand as well as the officer sitting at the table to my right hand side. After the officer had given his testimony, I was asked by the judge if I would like to testify. At the time, I was so overwhelmed and had so much stage fright that my 10 minute speech that would prove me innocent turned into 30 seconds of words being spewed out with no direction. Let me remind you I am a 17 year old sitting in this courtroom without my parents or anybody to guide me, as they are both out of the country taking care of family business. However I was not even the slightest bit worried about my case as I was SO confident in the US Judicial system and the fact that they stand behind not wrongfully convicting someone. In the end, the judge basically said it was the cops word against mine and he would reduce my fine by $100. I got on the phone after walking out of the city hall and called my father who is thousands of miles away and the only person I feel comfortable speaking with and expressing my emotions. He lets me know he is ok with the outcome and I could not stop crying explaining to him how the judge and officer had taken advantage of the fact I was alone in the court and overpowered me into thinking I was guilty. My father advised me again he was not upset with it, sometimes things don't always work out and that I should just let it go as it’s just a fine. Directly after getting off the phone I went to the bank down the road and pulled out $149 in pennies and dimes ($25 in pennies and the rest dimes). All of these coins were in US treasury rolls in a sealed box that the bank had not even opened yet. I returned to the courthouse and told the front desk lady, “Hello Ma'am, I am here to pay a fine for a violation I received.” The woman walks up, I put the box of rolled up coins on the counter and she responds, “Do you plan on paying in coins?”
Me: Yes ma'am I do, they are all in rolls and easy to count.
Woman at the desk: We do not accept coins here.
Me: Ma’am, money is money, what do you mean you wont accept this? I was told to pay cash or card within 60 days and I am doing as told.
Woman: We won't accept it! I can have the judge come and tell you this.
I gather my emotions together and head outside to go to the bank to transfer the money into paper currency. As I get outside, I'm extremely agitated and wondering why they aren't accepting my money. I take a deep breath and head back inside level-headed, asking the woman to bring the judge out to have him explain to me why I cannot pay my fine. She goes to his office and tells me to come in. Me being the respectful and polite person I am, I ask the judge, “Your honor, may I enter?” At this time the lady and the judge have smirks and slight smiles on their faces as if I'm a joke. The judge says to me, “We have been told not to accept change” and well, he's a judge which leaves me with no options but to politely thank him for his time and walk out. I walk out extremely upset and hurt by the way they treated me. Still, I was going to do again as I was told and go to the bank to get the money. Once at the bank I was shocked when the cashier didn't even open the box of coins because both her and the manager told me that this was a sealed US currency box which they take as the presumed amount. I request my money back in $1 bills, and also explaining to them why I was doing this, which they fully understood and respected me for. The reason I was paying in coins is because I was disrespected and overpowered with no chance to offer a rebuttal to them, so what better way to let them know I was upset and let down? This would be my last chance to make a statement about what had happened that morning so I used the opportunity to my advantage and made it just a little more difficult for them like they had done for me. Let me add that I could have made this 1000x more difficult for them by breaking the rolls apart and having them count it all individually. I enter back into the City Hall and the front desk lady says, “May I help you with something?” I'm thinking, “Obviously I'm back here to pay my fine with bills because you just told me to get change”. But I responded with, “I’m here to pay my fine ma’am,” and she says, “Give me second,” while putting her earpiece in. I assumed she was going to finish up a phone call then help me out, but 30 seconds later I find out she had called upstairs to the police and said these exact words which I was told later by an officer: “There's an unwilling subject downstairs causing problems, saying F U to the judge and he could be dangerous.” The elevator doors open 30 seconds after I had talked to her and 10 police officers come storming out of it. I think to myself there must've been a bank robbery but sure enough that's not what it was… As I'm watching them come out of the elevator, they surround me and the officer who issued the citation says to me in a very frightening voice, “Are you the reason we’re down here?” I was so scared I couldn't even respond at this point. The lady then says you may come to the window now. Out of the side of my ear, I hear an officer go, “Yeah, I've seen him around,” followed by 6 other officers responding with, “So have I”. I’m near tears at this point because why do they remember me out of all 55,000 other citizens of Lake Oswego when I have never ever been in trouble with the law. Then Officer *redacted* (the one who issued the citation, also whose name is being used due to the fact that he did something so wrong that he needs to be publicly known for it) says, “If you ever flip me off again I'll put handcuffs on you and take you straight to jail.” I start to respond to him because I'm completely confused about what he's talking about, but before I can even ask him, he tells me, “Shut up”. At this point, I’m holding back tears for the life of me. Once the money is done being counted 1 minute later, I turned around, staring at the ground so scared, intimidated, and frightened, that I started sobbing and speed walked out. On my way out, an officer tried to stop and say something to me but the only things that had come out of their mouths had been disrespectful, so I said, “Get away from me you racist, I'm not putting up with this intimidation.” Keep in mind, I was bawling my eyes out, barely able to catch my breath. I went outside to take a deep breath, gather my thoughts and then went back inside. I walked up to Officer *redacted* asking when I flipped him off and he tells me the day he pulled me over I drove by again and flipped him off. I instantly recollected the day and moment that I drove by him using my hand as a gesture telling drivers who were driving in his direction to slow down so they would not have the misfortune that I had. Once he gave me a chance to tell him this he goes “Oh.” At that moment, he was probably so embarrassed and he should have been. After talking to him, I recognized another officer who I’d known to be polite and respectful no matter the circumstance, and I said to him, “ I am sorry for wasting all of your officers time by this and I am sorry for crying and yelling at the officer who tried to stop me, as that's not the person I am”. I talked to him further for approximately 30 minutes one-on-one, where he disclosed to me what the lady told them and why they came down.
I cried for 8 hours straight yesterday and I don't cry unless there's a damn good reason to, and the only good reasons are death and injustice… I was mistreated based on my height, appearance, skin color, and age. I did not do anything to that lady but she abused her power and intimidated me. I also should add that everything in the judge's office is recorded 24/7 audio and video. If they went to look at those tapes, they’d see I hadn't done anything she claimed I had done. Just because I am 6 foot 2, brown, and a teenager does not mean I am a threat nor am I an irrational person. For the officer to tell me, a 17 year old child with no parents nearby, to “shut up” is completely disrespectful, rude, and scary. Worst of all, he is a police officer, somebody whose job is to protect and make people feel welcome, especially in the city and time we live in.
Situations like these happen everyday to thousands of people, which leads me to believe there's a prominently existing bias towards people of color because I guess we're intimidating. My hands were tied in this situation as anything questionable I would've done would have resulted in me being seriously hurt. This lady had lied once so why wouldn't she do it again to get me in handcuffs? These officers and staff took advantage of me being alone and young to intimidate me into doing what they wanted and teaching me a lesson.
I have not only been treated unfairly yesterday. My whole life, my skin color has factored into how people view me. For years as a child, I had only a few friends because families were worried I was a bad kid. How could I be a bad kid? I'm 1& years old and my parents raised me like no other. I've been called names, excluded from gatherings, told nobody wants me around and tons of other hurtful things. However as I said, I've made my skin thicker and bettered myself to show these people that brown, black, blue or green, everybody has the chance to prove they aren't a stereotype.
I have done all I can since I was old enough to fight the inequality by making sure everybody is included and feels comfortable. Nothing is more hurtful than being treated as less than when you have done all you can to treat everybody with fairness and the benefit of the doubt, which brown people are never given.
This problem has been going on in the United States for centuries, now dating back to the genocide of Native Americans, the first slaves, then to the japanese and now moving back to African-Americans and Middle Eastern people. The only solution to this problem is diversifying all aspects of life, jobs and communities. This will allow people to confide in people of color which leads to trust, respect and equity, not equality…
This sense of being unwelcome has really impacted my life to the point that I only have 2 friends who are white and the rest of my friends are African, middle eastern and African American. I am grateful for the supporting friends I have who make me feel welcome no matter what and have my back to the end. I will always include everybody and treat everybody with respect unless they treat me disrespectfully after I have been polite.