In this interview, I speak with Cliff Friedlander, one of the organizers of United Against Hate Week Santa Cruz County. The following article was written by the aunt of a young man whose life was taken away when he intervened in a hate crime in Portland, Oregon
United Against Hate Week: Building Bridges, Healing Wounds
Marcelle E. DuPraw, PhD
In 2017, my 23-year-old nephew, Taliesin Namkai Meche (“Tilly”) was murdered in a hate crime
while on a train heading home from work in Portland, Oregon. He carried a box of food for a
homeless man whom he routinely encountered en route. An angry and troubled white man started
threatening two young women of color, one in a hajib, and Taliesin and two other white men stood
up to intervene. Minutes later, two of the interveners lay dying on the train floor, their necks
slashed; the third barely survived. Tilly’s last words – “Tell everyone on the train I love them.”
Five years later, it is still unbelievable – that a young man so present, so full of love, smarts, and
vision, could be gone – just … gone. It is unbelievable that Taliesin’s life was snatched from him so
suddenly, so senselessly, so brutally.
It was also unbelievable how compassionate human beings from all over sought to comfort us as we
struggled to come to terms with this horrific artifact of the tsunami of hate sweeping over our
world. The Portland community created a touching tribute wall at the train station. The Muslim and
Buddhist communities reached out and held us up.
Hate crimes in California increased 32% from 2020 to 2021, according to the California Department
of Justice. Members of the Black community are the most frequent targets: roughly 30% of the
1,763 hate crimes reported in 2021 were perpetrated against Black people. Anti-Asian hate crimes
nearly tripled, and hate crimes related to sexual orientation increased by nearly 50%.
But many are working to counter this terrible trend. Not In Our Town (www.niot.org) is a national
anti-hate movement founded by filmmaker Patrice O’Neill, who travels the country documenting
how communities work together to heal from horrific hate crimes. NIOT is a diverse national
coalition that seeks to build bridges across differences, cultivate strength and resilience, and give
comfort and courage to everyone in resistance to the perpetrators of hate.
Here in Santa Cruz I received an enthusiastic response to the idea of a county-wide movement to
counter hate and bullying. Santa Cruz County United for Safe and Inclusive Communities (SCCUSIC)
was founded to reduce hate and bias activity in our county and strengthen the response when these
acts occur. Since early 2021 we have been learning together how hate and bias incidents are
handled and exploring areas for potential improvement. We concluded that SCCUSIC can be most
effective raising public awareness, advocating for systemic improvements, and referring survivors
of hate crimes to existing organizations for assistance.
This year United Against Hate Week runs November 13 – 20. There will be free online bystander
trainings, a workshop on how to have tough conversations, a youth-focused panel, and a screening
of Patrice O’Neill’s latest film, “Repairing the World,” about how Pittsburgh pulled together in the
aftermath of the attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Registration links for these events – and more
– can be found in the Santa Cruz County United Against Hate School Toolkit, assembled by our
County Office of Education.
This week reminds us to cultivate empathy and appreciate differences rather than fear them. It is
an opportunity to have conversations about hate and bias and learn skills for intervening when we
see hateful behaviors. It’s an opportunity to raise awareness of resources available to survivors of
hate and bias. This week’s events also provide opportunities to make meaningful connections with
others from different walks of life — arguably the most potent antidote