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Friday, July 18, 2008

Making Progress, or Being "Whitewashed?": Racial Profiing Committee Stumbles On

Posted by Matt Davis on Fri, Jul 18, 2008 at 1:56 PM

The mayor's racial profiling committee was thin on the ground yesterday following last month's supposedly energizing retreat at the Doubletree hotel, leaving its members to ponder the committee's long-term viability.

"I was quite disappointed with the end result [of the retreat], quite frankly," said the committee's co-chair, Jo Ann Bowman of Oregon Action. "If we only do these two or three things over the next six months, it's going to take us 100 years to fix the racial profiling problem in Portland. If that's where we're going to put all our focus for the next six months, it's not going to change a thing on the street."

Bowman's frustration appeared to in turn frustrate the committee's facilitator, Kristin Lensen, and the pair of them stepped out for a 10 minute break, which judging from the body language, appeared to involve a fairly frank exchange of views:

While the committee was originally convened in January 2007 to "eliminate racial profiling," it has now agreed on three rather more modest goals for the next six months: To review the bureau's "hit rate" for racial profiling statistics, to create small-group opportunities for positive interactions between police and community, and to build a "customer service culture in PPB."

Such lowly ambitions appear to have stuck a pin in the committee's enthusiasm: Just seven people showed up for the meeting yesterday, and frustrations ran high. Notable absences included Police Chief, Rosie Sizer, and Cop Union Boss, Robert King.

"I agree with Jo Ann that there's other stuff that needs to be accomplished," said Copwatch activist Dan Handelman. "The Chief gave us a plan last year, and I want to see that plan on the table, saying, this is what we've done so far, and this is what we still need to do. I think that'll help us in terms of what we've accomplished."

"Do you really think we're going to get at this racial profiling issue, or is this just white-washing to get things moving?" asked Carl Goodman, assistant director of the county's Department of Community Justice.

Meanwhile Maria Rubio, the mayor's director of public safety policy, said she thought the retreat had achieved its goal of "narrowing the committee's focus." Officer Deanna Wesson said she though the retreat narrowed the committee's focus to things it "can actually achieve."

Bowman, who raised the possibility of a class-action lawsuit after the retreat, said more mandates for the police bureau would be more likely to change officers' behavior on the street. She said she wanted officers to be forced to give out their business cards after interacting with people, something she's been asking for for two years, for example. "So these are the things that are frustrating me," she said. "When I look at what's happening on the streets and what we're doing here, there's a disconnect. And I don't see that what we've taken on will get us there."

Meanwhile, Officer Wesson, who is working on an article for the next issue of the cop newspaper the Rap Sheet, about racial profiling, has arranged for small, private meetings in the homes of minority citizens with police officers in Cully on August 18th, 20th and 25th. There's also two meetings planned at the Turkish/American community center in SW Portland with the city's muslim community on September 7 and 14th.

At the end, there was time for community input. Activist Mike Dee spoke up.

"Part of the city resolution that established this committee says you're going to eliminate racial profiling," he said. "But I'm not really sure how at these meetings you're really getting that done."

Me either. And it's scandalous. But of course, in Portland, if you "convene a committee," you can take the wind out of any issue. And ensure zero progress. [Pukes with anger]. [Cleans it up]. [Pukes again]. [Wonders how much more of this he can take]. [Thinks he might puke again...] Hplerhghhhh.

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