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In the 1980s, Mic Crenshaw Worked to Confront White Supremacists in Minneapolis. Now He Raps and Speaks at Anti-Racist Protests in Portland.

“When you have masses of people who are enraged due to historic brutality, oppression, hate, terror, you’re going to see things breaking, you’re going to see things burning.”

WW presents "Distant Voices," a daily video interview for the era of social distancing. Our reporters are asking Portlanders what they're doing during quarantine.

More than a month into an uprising against racism and police brutality, Portland officials seem divided over the frequent confrontations between protesters and police. Often, those conversations (and an increasingly long list of public statements) have attempted to divide demonstrators into two camps: peaceful protesters and rioters, true supporters of racial justice and opportunistic radicals.

But rapper and veteran activist Mic Crenshaw says it's just not that simple.

"It's a very complex conversation," he says.

Crenshaw's connection to the current uprising runs deep, not only because of his long history as an activist, but also because of where that history began—in the same city where police officers killed George Floyd. Crenshaw attended middle school and high school in Minneapolis, where he became a founding member of Anti-Racist Action, an organization that confronted white supremacists.

Now based in Portland, Crenshaw is a rapper, mentor and educator. Over the past month, he's performed at rallies and protests around the city, most recently in front of the Multnomah County Justice Center on July 4 as part of Last of a Dying Breed, a duo comprising Crenshaw and Micah Fletcher.

Related: Four Portland Music Community Leaders Speak on the Scene's Role During the Protests

Crenshaw is not inclined to make blanket statements about the range of tactics and ideas at the Portland protests. At least one thing is clear, though.

"None of that takes away from the fact that the rage is justified," he says. "When you have masses of people who are enraged due to historic brutality, oppression, hate, terror, you're going to see things breaking, you're going to see things burning, because people have an explosive amount of emotion associated with the way they've been treated."

Related: What Have Six Weeks of Portland Protests Wrought?