How the Institutional Racism of Yesterday Still Reverberates Today
I've done the rounds at city hall this morning, trying to get comment from the Mayor and Commissioners on Reverend Jesse Jackson's statement last night, that reinstating Officer Ron Frashour this morning is an "insult" to the community. As far as we know, Frashour went back to work this morning as planned.
The Mayor is yet to get back to me, City Commissioner Amanda Fritz is "trying to get out of town, she's leaving the country tomorrow" for a vacation in Europe, says a staffer. Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman and City Commissioner Nick Fish have gone to a lunch honoring County Commissioner Jeff Cogen, which leaves only City Commissioner Randy Leonard to express his views. And boy does he have some views.
Leonard disagrees with Reverend Jackson. "I don't put the blame on the officer that shot Aaron Campbell," he says. "I put the blame where it belongs, which is at the head of the organization."
"At first blush, one may have that reaction," Leonard says, of Jackson's statement last night. "But when you drill down and look at the details, Raymond Gwerder was shot in 2006 in strikingly similar circumstances."
Leonard referred me to this morning's story by reporter Maxine Bernstein in this morning's Oregonian—Bernstein spent all day yesterday going through 600 pages of detective investigation released by the police bureau, and has a roundup of what she found.
"Gwerder was also talking on a cellphone to officers," says Leonard. "And the person who shot him was not aware that he was on the phone to a hostage negotiator at the time."
Gwerder's attorney, Tom Steenson, has also subsequently represented the family of James Chasse, and looks to be lining up to represent Aaron Campbell's family, too. The city had to agree to pay out $500,000 related to his death, and Leonard says he is the only commissioner to have asked to meet with Sizer for an explanation over the Gwerder payout. He showed me notes from his meeting with Sizer on December 13, 2007.
"The Campbell incident is tragic, but it's pretty simple to fix," says Leonard. "You simply require the officers with the rifles to be on the same police frequency as the commanding officers and the hostage negotiation team."
Bernstein's article this morning shows a police negotiator asked Campbell to come out of his house—effectively walking into the rifle fire, because Officer Frashour didn't know he'd been instructed to come out.
"That's what Rosie Sizer told me she was going to do in December 2007," says Leonard.
Indeed, the notes from Leonard's meeting with Sizer show that she wanted light discipline for the officer involved. Notes from a meeting on November 8, 2007, with SERT Commander Ed Brumfield show that Brumfield told Leonard there would be "dedicated incident commanders on call" for similar incidents in future.
"The facts are bad enough as they are," says Leonard. "I specifically met with [Sizer] earlier on an incident eerily similar to the Campbell incident."
Leonard says "the issue is not whether the officer should come back to work," it's about Sizer not doing what she said she would do in 2007. "I respect Jesse Jackson as much as anybody," he says. "But I'm also not going to pander to the black community to tell them what they want to hear."
I asked Leonard whether we should interpret his remarks in the context of an ongoing standoff with the chief.
"Let's be clear about why," he said. "It's because I ask tough questions. Any change that needs to take place with the police bureau is going to be difficult, and people will try to characterize those clashes as personality clashes."
Leonard also had harsh words for the mayor and police commissioner this morning. "I don't believe in being a ceremonial commissioner," he said. "I don't show up and cut ribbons, and then go back and do what she wants me to do. I have great respect for the mayor and Dan, but what I've read from them in terms of what's happened has been disappointing and off point."
We've got an email in to Sizer's office seeking a response.
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!