Eighteen volunteers and I met up at the Q Center on Mississippi St last night for the city training of the first Q Patrol squad. The mood was light, with even Portland Police Officer Sara Westbrook cracking jokes and smiles, but the motivations of the group was serious.
"I love Portland and was angry about what happened," said James Birch, one of the five friends attacked downtown on May 30. "This is my way of reclaiming the city." Still, the group discussed the finer points of discouraging harassment downtown with an upbeat attitude.
Told that the four-to-five person crews would be patrolling in two and a half hour shifts, Birch joked, "That's like 1,200 calories!"
When Office of Neighborhood Involvement trainer Stephanie Reynolds recommended the groups have a "safe word" to cue calling 911 or heading to a safe zone, someone in the group quickly quipped, "Oh, we have experience with that!" And co-trainer Mike Boyer drew eyerolls when he dared to suggest it would be hard to run from trouble in high heels.
Clearly there are some details to work out. Right now, "Queer Patrol" doesn't even exist on the city handbook's official list of foot patrols. In starting up the city's first patrol, the Q Center made the major decision to work hand-in-hand with the Portland police. That choice is not without controversy.
Not everyone in the queer community feels comfortable with the idea of working with the police and the Q Patrol Facebook page includes some short, critical conversations. One of the people who offered some criticism on that page, a local activist who goes by Katey Pants, also posted an interesting little essay over on QPDX.com that calls for a community patrol force not associated with the police:
Some of us are sex workers. Some of us use drugs. Some of us are not gender conforming. Some of us are undocumented people. I think it is very reasonable to assume if the police were patrolling our work places, our dance clubs, our neighborhoods that we would be more subject to arrest and not protection.
I asked Walt Nichols, a generally in-the-know Portlander who ran for City Council this year and volunteers time on both law enforcement and queer issues, for his take on the debate. His logic for what the Q Patrol has to work with police is pretty sound. "Some of these people you're going to have to prosecute," says Nichols. "They like the antagonism and the only way you're going to stop them is to come down hard on them with law enforcement."
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