So far, the evidence makes it looks like just one more of the hundreds of episodes of racial lawlessness that have taken place in more than 60 cities over the last three years.
But on a local forum, the reaction gave the situation a truly unique flavor:
“As an employee of a Portland area Nordstrom I have to wonder why you think that we care?” said Jason Handleman. “Things like this make work interesting and I hold no ill-will toward anyone in this group. Our security personnel spend more time concerned with employees than clientele, and honestly most employees, at my store, would not help them if they were in an altercation.”
A Nordstrom manager did not respond to a request for comment.
But other Portland commenters joined in the forum. One participant said: “Rich white high school students wait, and grow up to flash mob our economy and legally manipulate our Congress with unregulated lobbying. They are taught by their rich white parents that they are helping grow the economy through deregulation and small government.
“Funny, the Oregonian does not report on the rich old white guys who flash mob and are hijacking our economy and schools. It’s well reported in many respected and less corporate newspapers: Guardian, BBC, Aljazeera, Le Monde, and Democracy Now.”
The Nordstrom store is in the Lloyd Center mall, the site of two violent episodes over the last two years.
In April 2011, two black men were arrested for murder after shooting into a gang of black teenagers who had just left the mall, leaving one dead.
The year before, 20 black men harassed the customer of a shoe store in the mall before shots rang out. No one was hit.
“The past two weeks have seen four shootings tied to the African American gangs, the most recent an alleged attempted murder in an athletic shoe store at the mall Wednesday evening,” said the Oregonian newspaper in a rare admission of the race of the alleged criminals.
The Nordstrom theft was one of at least four recent “flash robs.”
In April, a mob of 20 black people chased a white couple into a convenience store. The local papers described the ensuing assault and robbery as a “fight.” The mob left when one of the employees sprayed them with “bear spray.”
Four people were arrested, including a mother of two of the assailants. The mother was convicted of giving police false information while trying to hide her daughters.
Despite the video evidence, the district attorney declined to file hate-crime charges.
When a local TV station went to a community college to do a news story featuring a class discussing hate crimes, at least one of the students said the decision was fine with her because all involved were “brats” and besides, she did not see what happened before the video was taken. The white girl may have provoked it, said the student.
In June, four black people were arrested for assaulting a police officer at a MAX station.
The most recent attacks are also the largest – and to some the most troubling.
It was just three months ago the Oregonian, reporting on a police shooting in Laurelhurst Park, assured it readers the park was otherwise safe.
“Laurelhurst, a neighborhood of stately homes surrounding one of Portland’s loveliest park lakes, is better know for its seasonal tree colors than for violent crime,” said the paper.
“Fern Wilgus, Laurelhurst Neighborhood Association’s public safety chairwoman, said the tennis court area has attracted sporadic fights and robberies over the years.”
But never mind about that. The paper’s willingness to minimize the racial violence seemed similar to how a social worker characterized dozens of violent episodes in Philadelphia, some involving more than 1,000 black people: “That’s just kids blowing off some steam.”
Then there was the homosexual rape in Laurelhurst park following a carjacking that began after a Latino man got lost near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Two of the three attackers were identified as black.
Still, people seemed surprised when in June, a group of 150 black people – described by the newspapers as drunken teenagers – assaulted several people in the park, robbing at least one of them.
The following night, a group of 20 to 30 black people came upon three people on a tennis courts at the park: “Some of the teens began throwing bottles onto the court and calling out to them. They said the teens then began fighting with them.”