Central Oregon Peacekeepers: Behind the Scenes


Jace Bracelin , Staff Writer

I distinctly remember as a child hearing Bend described as a bubble, protected from the violence, malice and pain of the outside world. As I grew up in this community I slowly began to see the fault in this idea. We are not immune or separate from the outside world, though we portray ourselves as a beautiful utopian mountain town we struggle with many of the same issues that plague the rest of our nation. The underlying fact though, is that we continue to believe we are a bubble because it’s easier than admitting we are just as flawed as the rest of the country.

The Central Oregon Peacekeepers are an organization that actively works against the idea that Bend is a perfect utopian community. They work to point out our community’s shortcomings so we can strengthen and improve. They support those in our society who are left ignored or maltreated by our governing institutions who have a vested interest in perpetuating a false image of our community. The Peacekeepers, in their work, strive to point that the bubble never existed. In the summer of 2019 they formed the organization to provide much needed security to BLM protests, but quickly expanded their role in the community. With the tragic murder in downtown Bend of Barry Washington, a black man, the Peacekeepers have once again taken a public role in holding the city and community accountable.

Many Peacekeeper organized events have high if not majority youth turn out. For an organization that doesn’t accept youth into its ranks, I found this interesting. To start, I went to a vigil for Barry Washington, organized by the Peacekeepers. My main intentions were to show up in support, to say otherwise would be deceptive, but I also took note of the other youth who had attended. The event was small, likely due to it being at a time where school was in session, but powerful nonetheless. Leading the march from the Courthouse to the exterior of Capitol, colloquially designated Barry’s Corner, Malik Friedman, a Bend High senior, stood out to me. 

Friedman is a self stated supporter of the Central Oregon Peacekeepers but not a member. 

“I attend all their events as they align with what I believe and it helps me to actively participate in activism within my community,” Friedman said.

Most of Friedman’s support for the Peacekeepers comes out of ideology, specifically a struggle for liberation.

“I think that insulation from issues such as racism, classism and other struggles come from Central Oregon’s economic and ethnic demographics,” Friedman said. “We have a majority richer white population that does not need to inherently care about the struggle for liberation faced by working people and people of color.”

“I’ve lived in Central Oregon for 17 years. I feel the need to show up because of looming existential crises, personal liberation struggles and out of solidarity with the struggle of others.”

“I want to secure, healthy fulfilling lives for everyone, and to protect our planet. The youth have inherited the world’s threats to existence so now youth activism is more important than ever. I will not cease to participate and to take action and will do anything I can to encourage youth involvement in our community.”

My interview with Malik was interesting. They ideologically support the Peacekeepers and attend their events out of solidarity and a sense of community but they’re not a member. I wanted to hear from the horse’s mouth why youth should stay involved in this movement. I identified in the crowd a frequent attendant and apparent leader of the Central Oregon Peacekeepers, Luke Richter.

“I’ve lived in Central Oregon for about 14 years, first outside of Prineville then in Bend.” Said Luke

Luke is the elected president of the Central Oregon Peacekeepers and their main man when it comes to public relations. If there’s any peacekeeper you’re likely to recognize, it’s him. Original member of the Central Oregon Diversity Project, founder of the Central Oregon Peacekeepers and now stated candidate for Mayor, Luke is certainly a valuable player when it comes to local politics and I wanted to hear his side of the story.

“After the first George Floyd rallies, I realized how many blatantly ignorant people there are in our community and how brazenly violent they had be getting. I figured it was time somebody stood up to that.”

On issues pertaining to our wider community, Luke had to say

“If you look around you can tell pretty quickly that Bend has all the major issues that every city has. There’s nobody here that’s totally safe from homelessness or the other issues that plague our community. That’s why we organize mutual aid events, like the Winter clothing drive. It’s why we cohost and stand in solidarity with protests like the Barry Washington JR Vigils. It’s why we meet and discuss local issues with our elected officials.”

The youth connection though, is what I was after.

“The younger generation is the one that hopefully is gonna end up seeing a lot of the end results of the work we’re doing now. Keeping younger people engaged and keeping them in the know, letting them know that they’re voice is valuable, is critical.”

“The fact that kids these days have easy access to such much information, good and bad, changes things. I’m hopeful that it’ll make newer generations smarter and more open minded than mine.”

In the end, Luke is hopeful for the future of Central Oregon.

“I feel that there’s enough people in the broader local movement right now that major differences can be made and that equity and inclusion can be made synonymous with living in Bend.”

It is true that a day is coming when we, the current youth, will be in a position of power. Staying engaged with local affairs, like the efforts of the Central Oregon Peacekeepers, can set us on the right track to making the changes that need to be made early. If the youth stay engaged and don’t fall into the trap of political apathy like our parents and their parents before, then there is still hope for a better future.