Last week, a county grand jury indicted Joshua Robert Brown, a 21-year-old white ex-con, on charges of killing Anthony Cleo Wilson, a 47-year-old African-American convicted felon, in a downtown housing project two months ago.
The story drew little attention, and might have continued to do so, if not for one troubling fact: Before his release from prison just three weeks prior to the murder, Brown was a member of one of the largest and most dangerous prison gangs in Oregon--one that has its roots in the white-supremacist movement.
Police are not releasing details of Wilson's death, but WW has learned that they are considering the possibility that the stabbing was a hate crime.
"We are still investigating that," said Detective Rich Austria. "We don't feel that we have enough information at this point to base any opinion on."
Brown's attorney, Ken Walker, did not return a WW call for comment. However, one thing is clear: Brown's four years in the state prison system following his 1998 conviction for robbery did nothing to sweeten his disposition. There, authorities say, he became affiliated with the European Kindred prison gang, taking part in assaults on inmates and at least one state corrections officer.
Lt. Dean Harlow of the Department of Corrections says the European Kindred, with about 300 members, is one of the three largest gangs in Oregon's prisons--and definitely the most dangerous.
"They're a white-supremacist group," he says. "One of their stated goals when they first started was protecting white individuals from colored inmates inside the prison system. Eventually it just expanded to where it became a radical gang, where it didn't matter whether they targeted colored people or white people. They just went after the general population."
"They are a very dangerous group," Harlow adds. "We know that they have tried to bring drugs into the prison. They have put hits out on people outside prison. So they do organize outside the prison system."
Authorities say Brown's motive may have been that Wilson, who'd been busted for possession and manufacture of narcotics, sold him some bad or phony drugs. But they also are investigating whether it was a hate crime. Following the incident, Brown is alleged to have used the word "nigger" to describe Wilson.
Meanwhile, awaiting trial, Brown has been placed into solitary confinement at the Multnomah County Justice Center for fighting with a black inmate and failing to obey corrections deputies' orders. According to sheriff's office reports obtained by WW, Brown protested that putting him in a cell with an African American violated his "religious rights."
A decade ago, in the wake of the 1988 bludgeoning death of Ethiopian student Mulugeta Seraw, Portland became known as the skinhead capital of the United States. Following the conviction of Seraw's killers and a subsequent police crackdown, most white supremacists went underground or fled to the suburbs, but lately there has been an increase in activity. Last fall, Oregon Spotlight, a group that watches white supremacist groups, released a report detailing increased recruiting activity in the wake of Sept. 11. Last week, a Multnomah County jury found two skinheads guilty of kidnapping and beating a 19-year-old Clackamas County woman.
Carl Green, Brown's county parole officer, cautions against generalizing from the indictment. Most of the European Kindred members who have been released from prison over the past six months--about a dozen in all--"are doing OK," he says. "They've have had problems here and there, but not like this."
"You really cannot police an ideology," he says. "This is still America. You can choose to love or hate who you want, as long as it doesn't interfere with another person's well-being."