The Documentary Podcast
Portland, prisons and white supremacy - part one
Thursday, 1 October
Portland, Oregon, has a reputation as one of the United States’ most liberal and tolerant cities. Since the death of George Floyd, it has been at the forefront of protests and violence as anti-racist demonstrators and far right groups have battled with each other and with the police. Yet these tensions are nothing new.
In 2016, the killing of a young black man sparked a national debate about white supremacy. Nineteen year old Larnell Bruce died after a white man called Russell Courtier deliberately drove his car at him. A trial for murder and a hate crime followed, and exposed a culture of white supremacy in Oregon, rooted in the state’s history and thriving today despite its easy-going image. In this two-part documentary for Assignment, Mobeen Azhar follows the trial of Russell Courtier and investigates how the prison system has become a recruitment ground for racist gangs.
Part one reveals the disturbing details of what happened to Larnell Bruce when he encountered Russell Courtier outside a convenience store in one of Portland’s most deprived neighbourhoods. Then, as the murder trial gets underway, we learn that Russell Courtier had once joined a white supremacist gang and continued to bear its insignia on his clothes, and tattooed on his body. However, new evidence emerges to suggest that the case might not be as straightforward as it first appeared.
(Image: Safely behind bars? Some white prisoners have found themselves targeted by gangs. Image: Prisoner being escorted by guards. Credit: BBC)