City council has been discussing City Commissioner Randy Leonard's ordinance this afternoon, which would give the city's Independent Police Review more power. You can read more about the plans in this week's paper.
“Everybody in Portland should have reached the point right now where they realize that something is wrong and broken in the Portland Police Bureau," said Leonard, introducing the ordinance. "And for me, as a former firefighter, that’s about accountability.”
“The crisis of confidence in the police bureau and in the city’s leadership on these efforts is acute,” said City Auditor Lavonne Griffin-Valade, who is co-sponsoring the ordinance with Leonard.
“We have heard overwhelming community concern regarding accountability at the Portland police, and IPR’s ability to do something about it," said IPR director Mary-Beth Baptista. "For Portlanders, real accountability is not about IPR watching the police police themselves.”
“Everybody that I know asks, you know, why are you working for IPR, isn’t it a joke?” said Constantin Severe, the assistant director of the IPR. “It’s important for us, who have a role in the system, to not let the citizens here today and the officers down. It’s really important that we all stand up and do something that’s been needing to be done for a long time.”
This is a “major first step to solving police violence in our city,” said the Reverend Doctor LeRoy Haynes from the Albina Ministerial Alliance. He also drew attention to four other demands being made by the Alliance. I'll be updating this post throughout the afternoon as the discussion happens—read more after the jump.
“I’m heartened to see folk of every color in the gallery behind us," said Marcus Mundy with the Urban League of Portland. "And although most of the victims were African Americans, of police violence, they weren’t the only victims in this city. And we all suffer when these things happen in our community.”
“The police have power and authority that is unmatched within our community,” said Ashlee Albies, chair of the Portland chapter of the National Lawyers’ Guild. “Because they carry this enormous responsibility, we merely ask for accountability and transparency when there may be abuse of this awesome power.”
“We know that the policy being put forward is with the highest and best idea, yet we are concerned about the lack of community input and the short timeline,” said Cynthia Gomez from the Latino Network.
“Unfortunately it leaves the structure of the police investigating the police in place,” said Dan Handelman, an activist with Portland Copwatch. “The council needs to ensure not only that IPR can subpoena witnesses, but that they can investigate shootings and deaths in custody, that is currently prohibited in the police union contract.”
“The community is paying attention," said Jo Ann Bowman with Oregon Action. "The community wants us to pass this now."
“Many citizens do not trust the IPR to conduct independent complaints," said Debbie Aiona with the League of Women Voters.
Andrea Meyer, legislative director for the ACLU of Oregon said the IPR should take “immediate action on a complaint regardless of whether civil litigation is ongoing.” Right now, IPR can delay starting those investigations until lawsuits are complete.
“In a number of shootings going way back, to a person it is said it should not have happened. Yet nothing is ever done to keep it from happening again,” said Bishop AA Wells. "Your legislation today says to a citizen that you care about his life and you're concerned about his well-being."
Mayor Sam Adams asked Citizens' Review Committee Chair Michael Bigham why the IPR can't investigate deaths in custody.
"I think at the time it was a political decision," said Bigham, who said the new City Auditor and IPR director have been more aggressive in their roles than their predecessors.
"There is a sense of fear when you have an occupying force," said State Representative Lew Frederick. "There's also a sense of militarism. This doesn't help with the community working together."
Frederick said he'd watched a meeting of the police/community relations committee earlier this week, and that he felt the police were signaling that they "deigned" to get involved with the community, but that there wasn't the appropriate level of respect for the community in those interactions.
“Anybody that’s been pulled over for looking a bit different, or kicked awake by the Portland Police are going to be pleased about this happening,” said Patrick Nolen, a homeless advocate. “But I think IPR needs to be truly independent.”
“When it comes to the black and the poor, I feel like there’s a new gang in town that’s wearing blue, and a badge with PPB on it," said Gary Clay. “I don’t understand things going on in town, such as Officer Humphreys in the death of James Chasse. Why was this man still on the street to shoot a 12-year-old African American girl with a beanbag gun?”
“It was a smack in the face to the African American community to let the police union march with t-shirts on that said about their officer Humphreys," Clay continued. "How could you let that happen? You ask me if I’m mad, I’m mad. I feel like I’m living in a city where there's mothers against drunk drivers, where I feel like I need to be living in a city where mothers are against murdered sons.”
"The police union's attorney was quoted in the media this week as saying there are people at the table who don't have a stake in this process," said Chantilly Geigle-Teller, with Sisters of the Road. "That's part of the problem. Poor communities and under-served communities need to be seen as stakeholders—not just those other people who need to be brought into the process after the police have killed somebody. Portland belongs to all of us."
Police union attorney Will Aitchison clashed with Commissioner Leonard.
"I am here primarily to talk about process," he said. "I’m not here to talk about the collective bargaining process, although what you are considering would be one of the most fundamental breaches of the collective bargaining process one could countenance."
"I'm not here to talk about the legislation you are proposing," he continued. "Although it is clearly unconstitutional in at least two areas."
"Instead I want to talk about the process," he said. "In the last few weeks we’ve seen numerous proposals coming from various of you that impact the PPB and its police officers. Those proposals include major changes in the disciplinary process, even a proposal to arm water bureau employees. We’ve seen for the first time ever the city take the position that a Grand Jury transcript be made public, and we’ve seen for the first time ever you take a position that you want to open the collective bargaining process to the public."
"There’s a common thread through all of those," said Aitchison. "And that is that not one of those actions was preceded by dialog with your employees. We can recall a city government that valued input from its employees. What we are asking, mayor, is that you involve us in this process before you move down a road that is precipitous.”
City Commissioner Leonard responded: “I want to clarify one point, I’ve worked with Will for 30 years, but factually, I did meet with Scott Wsterman when we were talking about this process. We talked for over an hour in developing what his concerns were and what mine were, and that was reflected in this ordinance.”
“Secondly, the latest issue of the Rap Sheet does nothing to encourage those discussions when it characterizes the IPR as the Gestapo," said Leonard. "Having said that, I talked to the union president after that was published and he told me that wasn’t’ something he’d authorized and he apologized and I accepted.”
Fritz faced pressure from the Rev. W.G. Hardy Jr, and the NAACP, to vote the ordinance through today—she has proposed delaying the ordinance until at least mid-April until the "community can weigh in."
"I asked the mayor last week to delay a vote on bike funding so that the public could look into it," she said. "Do you not think that this issue is more important than bikes?"
"This is a long-standing issue in our community," said Hardy. "It's been going on since long before you came into office, and we elected you to represent our community, and we are here today weighing in in overwhelming numbers."
"This has to be passed now," said A.L."Skip" Osborne from the NAACP. "Too often when it comes to these kind of things, especially when they affect people of color, it is always put on the back burner. Let us debate it. Let us discuss it more, let us do that, let us do the other. It is time to make a change. Why does more blood have to be shed? Why does more discussion have to take place?"
"We're a community that understands what it's like to be fearful," said Jeana Frazzini with Basic Rights Oregon. "We're committed to working with an ally with the AMA coalition, in building trust, and in making the necessary policy changes."
Frazzini is looking to put marriage equality on the ballot in 2012, and needs the support of the African American community.
"The lived experience of LGBT people and people of color certainly have distinctions," Frazzini continued. "But both have been legislated against by laws that assume our identities pose a threat. I encourage you to take the vote today to improve the ordinance, there's much more work to be done."
"I came from a segregated family in the South," said Ed Garren, who is running against Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman in the May election. "And I was very surprised to come to Oregon to find that this was a Jim Crow state until 1953."
"The unspoken word in this community is racism," he continued. "And it's here, and it's big time. And we've all collaborated, because one of the things we like to do is if something is difficult, then we don't like to talk about it. This region is about 30 years behind most of Alabama and Georgia in terms of having dialog about racism."
"It is more important to me that we be as united as possible on this effort," said Leonard, adding amendments to ensure that a "stakeholder group" is included, and that the ordinance is delayed until the city's human relations group has a chance to weigh in on the ordinance.
"To that end I'm going to move that we continue this hearing to March 31 at 6pm," said Leonard.
Bowman shook her head in the audience.
"It becomes effective two weeks from tonight," said Leonard, pointing out that the emergency ordinance clause will remain on the ordinance.
"We need to be united as we go forward, and I'm willing to support having it voted on two weeks from now," Leonard continued. "Because in the long run I think that will be better for the community."
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