Mulugeta Seraw, Martyr for Civil Rights Movement   Leave a comment


Mulugeta Seraw (October 21, 1960 in Debre Tabor – November 13, 1988) was an Ethiopian student and father who went to the United States to attend college. Seraw was killed in November 1988, at age 28, in Portland, Oregon by three racist skinheads. His father and son successfully filed a civil lawsuit against the killers and an affiliated organization, holding them liable for the murder.

  Background

On the night of 12 November 1988, Ken “Death” Mieske, Kyle Brewster, and Steve Strasser, members of groups known as East Side White Pride and White Aryan Resistance (WAR), were driving around Portland with their girlfriends, headed home. The three confronted two black men, including Seraw, who had been dropped off in front of his apartment.[1] Subsequently, Seraw was beaten to death with a baseball bat on Southeast 31st Avenue.[2] The three perpetrators and their girlfriends left Seraw in a puddle of his own blood.

Seraw died in the early-morning hours of the following day. Mieske said he and the two others killed Mr. Seraw “because of his race.”[3] In response, hundreds of people turned out for rallies against racism.[4] Meanwhile Tom Metzger, head of WAR, said the skinheads did a “civic duty” by killing Seraw.[5]

After one week of investigation, Mieske, Brewster, and Strasser were arrested. Brewster and Strasser were convicted of manslaughter and assault. Brewster was released in November 2002, but in 2006 violated parole and was sent back to prison.[6]

In 1990, Mieske was convicted of first-degree murder and was serving a life sentence when he died July 26, 2011 at the age of 45. At the time of his death, he was still being referred to as a “Prisoner of War” by white power groups.[7]

In October 1990, Seraw’s father and son, represented at no cost by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, won a civil case against White Aryan Resistance‘s operator Tom Metzger and his son John Metzger for a total of $12.5 million.[8][9] The cost of trial, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars[10] was absorbed by the SPLC and the ADL.[11] Metzger being unable to cover the damages, the Seraws’ lawyer decided to file legal documents in order to have his Fallbrook, California home and his assets seized.[12] As a result, the house was transferred to Seraw’s estate for a value of $121,500; Metzger was allowed to keep $45,000 under California’s Homestead Act.[13] Metzger was warned that any damage caused to the house would result in a lawsuit; he still left it “a mess” with cracked windows, but without serious damage.[13] The Metzgers declared bankruptcy but WAR continued to operate. Metzger himself was forced to move into an apartment and collect welfare. He still makes payments to Seraw’s family.[14]

  Reaction and Response to his death

After the men were sentenced in 1990, white supremacists Tom Metzger and his son John Metzger were sued civilly on behalf of the Seraw Family, by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.[15] A fifteen-hundred-person rally took place in 1990, about 18 months after Seraw’s death, along the South Park Blocks.[16][17] Among the participants were assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Brown,[disambiguation needed ] prosecuting deputy district attorney Norm Frink, Margaret Carter, Bud Clark, and several city commissioners, as well as at least five members of Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice.[15][16] 150 police officers were on hand, as up to 300 skinheads were expected to oppose the rally; previously, the largest numbers of police officers needed for Portland events were an Elvis Presley concert in 1957 (90 officers) and a Run-DMC concert in 1987.[16] Bomb disposal squads, bomb-sniffing dogs, riot police, and a police helicopter were used, but the rally occurred without major incident.[16][18]

In 1990, members of the Oregon chapter of the American Leadership Forum formed an “experiential” anti-discrimination youth camp in response to Mulugeta’s death. Operating from 1990 to 2002, Camp Odyssey facilitated a week-long journey for teenagers in the Pacific Northwest, examining systems of oppression and fostering communication amongst a widely diverse group of participants. In early 2010, a small group of alumni formed a not-for-profit organization called The Piece, overseeing the revival of Camp Odyssey, which is projected to occur in the summer of 2011.

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Posted February 29, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Civil Rights

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