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Peace And Community During Angry Times: Isiah Wagoner On Black Lives Matter In Eugene

Jay Eads

The Black Lives Matter movement continues to push for justice reform. Spurred by George Floyd’s death at the hands of the Minneapolis police, activists like Isiah Wagoner are doing their part to spread awareness, and not let their message be co-opted by violent agitators outside the group.  

KLCC’s Brian Bull spoke to Wagoner about recent events here in Eugene, including last Friday’s destructive riot near the downtown.

Wagoner:  I asked what was going on to a lot of people, and they said that people are upset about police brutality. And so I initially walked into the middle of a fire, and I talked to people, and I said “This isn’t the way. We’re very peaceful here, we’re very loving here.  We don’t need to cause destruction. This isn’t the way.”   

So a lot of people were trying to discourage me.  “We’ve been trying for peace too long. Get out of here with all that peace talk.  Go home if you’re not with us.”  And I said, “I’m with you more than ever.  I stand with all of you. But I know as a people we can do better.  We can get our voice across the right way without costing people’s livelihoods.”

Bull:  In another provocative encounter you came across a man with what some witnesses say was an AR-15 during Sunday’s march. Can you describe that moment, Isiah?

Wagoner:  Yes sir. So we were walking over close by to the Washington Street bridge. Going towards the police station. I saw people crowding a vehicle.  And I was making sure that, “Hey, we don’t want to turn this into people bashing people’s windows in," so I did not initially see the man with the gun until I got closer.  

Once I got closer I realized what was going on. I just saw that he was outside of his car with his gun that he took out, and he was pointing at his gun saying, “There’s no clip in here and I have a 2nd Amendment right.”  

My initial reaction and thought was, this man is waiting for someone to give him a reason. What do I mean by give him a reason?   If you throw violence towards him then he’s saying, “Oh you’re going to punch me? Now I have a reason to load this magazine," that he had, that was loaded. 

If people provoked him, we could be potentially be looking at a massacre here. So let me step in, let me show this man some love, try to protect his rights, and say, “Brothers and sisters, if we ignore him, and we keep walking. He has no reason to do any harm to us.” 

Credit Jeff W. Will
Isiah Wagoner (center) works to keep a crowd from converging on a man who emerged from his vehicle wielding a semi-automatic rifle during Sunday's Black Lives Matter protest and march.

Some people wanted to challenge him, and I think he knew he was going to be challenged. Personally I cannot speak for him, I want to make that clear, I can’t speak for the man with gun but I can speak for myself.  And my clear thought was, that he was down there to see somebody provoke him.

I saw people surround him, and they started throwing punches, at him, towards me.  I got hit a couple of times, I was slammed down on the ground with this gentleman.  The scariest thing I saw was two people’s hands on the assault rifle at the same time.  And I don’t know at that point where his magazine’s at, if it’s loaded, or what’s going on.  But I’m trying to get him out of there as quickly as possible.

Once he got up, I directed him with my body towards his car door, I threw his hat into his car and on his lap. I thought he had the gun I guess he didn’t have his gun, somebody there has his gun.  Somebody returned that gun to him.  But he jumped into his vehicle, and drove as fast as he possibly could.  Luckily a man jumped out of the way, otherwise we would’ve saw a fatality on our hands for sure.

I’m a man of God and I truly believe he puts us in situations that we can control.

Bull:  Is there anything else you’d like to share, Isiah?  Perhaps what you see as the central message of the Black Lives Matter movement?

Wagoner:  When we say “Black Lives Matter” we’re saying black lives matter, too.  When we ask to be arrested, we ask to be arrested like everyone else gets arrested.  That means we get to go to jail. That means we get to have our day in court.  That means if we’re guilty, we will pay our debt to society by whatever that means of justice, of serving jail time, of serving volunteer time. We want to say that we stand with all of our brothers and sisters, and we love every single one of them. And the movement’s really about creating change.

And making sure that police have accountability.  We’ve given great power into our policeman’s hands. And that’s okay, because we know they have to protect and serve us. But when they break the law accountability must be held, must be brought to bear, and justice must be served.  And I would like to do a march with some police officers, I’d like them to show up and walk with us to show that “Hey look, we’re all society, we’re all people as one.”

Black Lives Matter activist Isiah Wagoner, speaking to KLCC’s Brian Bull.

Copyright 2020, KLCC. 

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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