Sanctuary From What?

Thoughts on Sanctuary City Day, one year later

Alex DiBlasi
4 min readMar 22, 2018


A year ago today, 3/22/17, I spoke before Portland City Council and Mayor Ted Wheeler in response to the city’s declaration of “Sanctuary City” status. (That’s my picture above, which ran on the Huffington Post.) With members of Don’t Shoot Portland, the Anarchist Student Union, Rose City Antifa, various immigrant rights groups, and local clergy in the chamber, I was one of dozens who gave comment that day; my comments received applause and Augustana Lutheran Church Pastor Mark Knutson stopped me as I left afterward to commend my words. (And Pastor Mark, if you’re reading this, let’s talk!)

Unfortunately, after I left, testimony descended into chaos, as a black-bloc clad anarchist/cop-watcher from Hillsboro named Jeff Singer (he submitted his name on public record) threatened the Mayor and City Council with insurrection in response to the “rivers of fucking blood” that he believed were flowing through the streets as the result of state violence. This was right on the heels of the autopsy of Quanice Hayes revealing that he, a 17 year old boy, had been shot at close range three times, twice in the chest and once in the head, by Portland Police Bureau Office Andrew Hurst. That this occurred while Quanice was on his knees with his hands in the air, a universal gesture of surrender, with an assault rifle, seemed to suggest a summary execution. (As for the toy gun Hayes “had” on him, I’ll give it 2:1 odds that Hearst planted it at the scene.) Singer referenced this revelation in his testimony and even attributed it as the cause for a lack of sleep.

His lack of sleep showed as much as his passion for social justice and attacking the state. His rambling testimony, in which he called Wheeler “a statist” and “scum” (the breadth of his rhetorical strategy is stunning) and also incorporated how his rallying against the state requires the use of a gas mask, ended with the line, “Go fuck yourself, you fucking pig,” to much fanfare from the anarchists in the gallery, while Council sat with their mouths open.

The resulting scene, where the chant was “Fuck Ted Wiener” and a local activist called Wheeler a “cum-stain,” made its rounds on the news that evening, laced with more bleeps than an MTV reality show. What got lost in the fray was Jeff’s most salient point, which is that as the city declared its sanctuary status in what was a largely ceremonial statement, State violence in the form of police brutality and oppression of activists presents itself as a boogieman for many communities already existing in the margins of society. “What Sanctuary?!”, Singer asked.

What sanctuary, indeed?

This opportunity for Wheeler, the newcomer Mayor of the city that rioted for four nights when Trump won, to position himself and city leadership as warriors against the neofascist agenda of Trump’s administration, needed to be balanced out with some truth spoken to power. My only regret is that Pastor Mark Knutson’s testimony wasn’t aired alongside that of the immigrant mother as well as Mr. Singer’s outright threats. (I showed the video of Singer’s testimony to a friend who works in behavior management, and all he said was, “Well, that dude’s got a satellite on his ass 24/7 now.”)

A year later to the day, and the public’s concern remains the same: we declare Sanctuary City status, but what does that really do?

It pains me that this issue remains. Today, a $1.3 trillion spending bill sits before Congress — enough hush money to pay Stormy Daniels 10 million times — without a solution to fix DACA.

For every Democrat who bloviated their promise to pass a #CleanDreamActNow, who is saying and doing nothing other than obsess over Trump’s affairs while he commits war crimes and blame Russia for an election they themselves lost, know that we see you and we will see you in November.

We cannot expect our leaders to combat Trump’s racist agenda if we can’t even fight it at home.

Below are my words from Sanctuary Day, one year later.

Despite all the fanfare that preceded public testimony, the declaration of Portland as a welcoming, ‘Sanctuary City’ is nothing but sky-high rhetoric. We need more from our leaders. Mr. Saltzman has spoken of “the times,” and his awareness of them. So can I.

As I’m sure you’re all aware, last week, a member of our community, a resident of this already so-called “Sanctuary City,” was picked up by ICE; he was detained here in our so-called “Sanctuary City” before being taken up to a detention center in Tacoma. Personally, I work with youth who tell me that since Trump became President, their moms don’t want them out after dark. A colleague of mine who has Mexican heritage carries around his passport everywhere he goes.

This is unacceptable. Portland is already a “Sanctuary City,” Oregon a “Sanctuary State,” according to Governor Brown. However, without legal backing, the words “Sanctuary City” remain just those: words. It sounds nice, it sounds like it should be enough, but it simply is not. Mr. Fish just said so himself.

In a recent interview with OPB, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was asked why he was one to avoid the phrase “Sanctuary City.” The answer he gave is that there is currently no legal precedent defining a “Sanctuary City” or “Sanctuary State.” This means no resolution, no court ruling establishing a definition.

I am asking that the City Council work with the City Attorney’s office to write a resolution creating a legal definition of “Sanctuary City,” not just words. This means refusing to collaborate with ICE. This means creating safe spaces for people facing or fearing deportation. This means doing so much more than patting yourselves on the back for your flowery rhetoric while deportations continue in our so-called “Sanctuary City.”

Power to the People and thank you.



Alex DiBlasi

Counselor, musician, sahajdhari Sikh. I left academia to see 48 states and find God, never letting schoolwork get in the way of my education.