This Week in the Mercury

Monday, December 1, 2008

What Happened To The Racial Profiling Committee?

Posted by Matt Davis on Mon, Dec 1, 2008 at 9:19 AM

I'm still waiting for any other local media outlet (and please, correct me if I'm wrong), to note the demise of the mayor's controversial racial profiling committee. This week's lede describes the last meeting of the committee, which first began meeting in January 2007, and has so far cost Portland taxpayers $87,000, if you didn't happen to catch it. Some of those dollars went towards a retreat at the Lloyd Center Doubletree hotel in June, in which members of the committee were encouraged to turn over this tarpaulin if they felt progress had been made:


To my knowledge, the Oregonian's last piece on the committee was an editorial by the mayor himself, penned in August this year, praising Sizer's work "acknowledging that the bureau needs to address the realities and perceptions of racial profiling by serving as co-chair of the Racial Profiling Committee." Former Oregonian columnist S.Renee Mitchell also wrote a piece in early August, and another back in May. But there's been nothing, since. Police-wise, we did recently see an editorial penned by new cop union boss Scott Westerman, with strong words about the Chasse incident. But as I say, nothing, so far, on racial profiling. It's too bad.

The mayor's office is insisting that the racial profiling work has not "died," and that it is being "transitioned" into the police bureau and as a subcommittee of the mayor's newly established human relations committee, but the committee's co-chair, Jo Ann Bowman of Oregon Action, who in this reporter's eyes has been the driving force behind the work since it began in May, 2006, is furious. She says the mayor's office seems to have "worked out a deal" with the police bureau to tackle the "warm and fuzzy" issues, and that it's shying away from confronting racial profiling. Here, too, is a diagram of the transition of the work, presented to the committee back in September:


To be clear: Bowman is no shrinking violet in the world of Oregon politics. She is a former state legislator and even served as Tom Potter's campaign treasurer when he ran for mayor. As co-chair of the racial profiling committee, I see her frustrated departure as newsworthy, and I'm wondering why others don't seem to. Bowman has grown increasingly to believe, it seems, that the mayor's office would rather pretend to address the controversial issue, than actually, you know, address the controversial issue. She says the demise of the committee in its current form is "arrogant," and a huge "slap in the face" to a community that has spent two years trying to fight racial profiling. Here she is, apparently arguing with the committee's facilitator, Kristen Lensen, during a break in proceedings over the summer:


Perhaps the media blackout, no pun intended, on this issue, is unintentional. I doubt very much whether it is the result of any organized conspiracy. And the Tribune did run a story on a report by consultant Brian Withrow saying there is no way to prove racial profiling is happening, when Withrow came to Portland from Kansas, back in April. But again, nothing since. Still, I guess what I'm wondering is: If a racial profiling committee falls in the forest, and there's nobody there to write about it, what does that say, in media terms, about the forest?

You can read more about the history of the racial profiling committee in the Mercury's archives. It will be interesting to watch what happens to the racial profiling work over the next few months. It would be even better to watch in the company of a few other local journalists. Human relations committee meets again this week, guys. Just saying.

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