Running Commentary

This Memorial Day Weekend, I mourn the heroic men in Portland

Two men were killed in Portland, Ore., on Friday for coming to the defense of a couple of teenage girls who were being verbally attacked by a racist man shouting anti-Muslim and "anti-everything" slurs, according to the police.

It was rush hour. These men stood up to protect the girls who were strangers, along with everyone else on that train. But they weren't only protecting the people in that train. They were protecting this country; they were protecting American values. At least, American values as I know them.

As people start putting American flags out in their yards and attending parades this Memorial Day weekend to honor those who died for the United States, I find myself asking how can we be this country, a country I increasingly don't recognize? Will there aways be some violence, always be dangerous, crazy people? Of course. But this wasn't a random act of violence. This was a person pushed by rage and racism and emboldened to go after people. And these incidents and confrontations are not rare in the U.S. right now.

So, how are we now a nation where a ROTC student days from graduation at Bowie State is stabbed and killed for being black? How are we a place where bias incidents occur (and are recorded) every day - on beaches and trains, at the mall and on college campuses? Is this what our veterans risked their lives for? Did people die to protect the democratic values and institutions of a country that now proudly praises violence against a member of the free press as the righteous and manly thing to do? Did their families sacrifice and suffer to usher in a new era of ignorance, intolerance and violence?

We are now the country that proudly denies science and confidently shouts threats at core democratic institutions like the press and independent courts. This is who we have become, but I can't let myself believe it is who we will always be.

I believe those two men in Portland who died trying to defend and protect Muslim women are as much heroes protecting our country and its values as members of the U.S. military. They took a stand for us all against an aggressor who threatened one of the principle ideas this country was founded on - freedom of religion. They took a stand to defend and protect kids on a train, to stand up for those among us in need or danger.

I believe this Memorial Day it's time to make some important decisions about ourselves and our country. If you say that of course you don't condone violence yet you applaud, support or laugh off the hateful rhetoric that inspires it, I've got news for you - words matter, they eventually turn into action and it's time to acknowledge who you are and decide who you want to be.

Kara Yorio