Standing Up to Violence

Three brothers catch racism in action

Cervante Pope | 8/23/2016, 4:33 p.m.
What the brothers caught on video is both shocking and somehow not surprising at all.
Brothers Pablo, Romeo and Emilio Herrera documented racial harassment on a MAX train by one rider against a young mom and her family and then took action to prevent further violence. Cervante Pope/The Portland Observer

A local band of brothers who documented racial harassment on a MAX train by one rider against a young mom and her family and then took action to prevent further violence showcase how heroism, fear and racism can collide in powerful ways.

Emilio, Romeo and Pablo Herrera were Portland bound from the Beaverton Skatepark riding the Blue Line on Aug. 13 when commotion from the other side of the MAX car caught their attention. What happened next, as caught on 21-year-old Emilio’s cellphone video, was a racially-based attack in progress.

“We had seen was this large man just yelling at a woman and we weren’t sure what was going on,” says Romeo, 18. “We just saw him hovering over her and screaming.”

The unidentified man was supposedly upset that the woman, Nitasha Sweaney, didn’t give him the 75 cents he asked of her and everyone else in the MAX car.

Sweaney, a 27-year-old new mother, told the Oregonian the man became enraged, stood in front of her, her daughter and her godmother and flipped them off, refusing to sit down when asked.

“He did not listen and came about a foot away from us and was yelling racial slurs and cussing in our face,” says Sweaney. “At this point the only thing I could do was hold my daughter tightly and cover her ears.”

It was at this moment that the Herrera brothers intervened with camera in hand, attempting to end the incident.

“When he saw Emilio recording he left the women alone and directed his attention on us and started yelling at us,” Romeo says.

The assailant then pushed his way through the young men and swung at the camera, directing his use of the n-word now towards them. Romeo says he put his hand up for protection and didn’t use any physical force, but the assailant ignored him and began antagonizing at Emilio.

“He was taking total advantage of this situation he was in with the power that he had,” Romeo says. “My brother is the smallest out of all of us, so he definitely switched from the women to who he thought was the weakest of us, the least threatening.”

Emilio says the incident occurred right behind the section of the MAX train where the driver sits. Pablo, 17, claims he even saw the driver open his door and peek out, then close it without intervening in any way.

The antagonist then got off the train, only to get back on seconds later and demand the brothers delete the video. He shoved them again before getting off the train for good.

The video of the incident has garnered much attention on social media, prompting both positive and negative responses.

“We’ve definitely gotten some bad comments on the Internet, but the positive outweigh the negative ones,” Emilio says.

The brothers’ decision not to involve the police sparked one commenter to falsely claim the boys didn’t call authorities because they’re “undocumented illegals” or have warrants out for their arrest.