A Portland police officer recorded using a racial slur during a confrontation with an unidentified group of men and women will be investigated by the police bureau's Professional Standards Division, Police Chief Mike Reese announced this afternoon—after the Mercury obtained a copy of the video and sent it to police officials for comment.
The 27-second video shows Officers Michael Hall and Heather Martley trying to clear out some people who might have been drinking. The location of the confrontation or whether it led to any arrests isn't clear. But during that back-and-forth, one thing was clear. Hall at some point utters a very obvious racial slur used against African Americans. When another of the men says "you ain't supposed to say that shit," and repeats the word, Hall defends his use of the word by saying, "but you said it to me."
“My expectation as chief is that all Portland police officers treat people with respect and dignity,” Police Chief Mike Reese tells the Mercury. “The video warrants an internal review to determine when, where and what occurred.”
The video is short enough and hazy enough that it's not exactly clear if Hall was responding to someone using the word first, or if he was the first person to use it. That distinction is important, and it may help guide a police investigation. Or not. The bureau's own courtesy policy on epithets, unlike its policy on curse words, does not allow for context. It says officers may use racial epithets only when quoting them in official police reports or when testifying in court.
No member shall use epithets or terms that tend to denigrate any particular gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation, ethnic or religious group, except when necessary to quote another person in reports or in testimony.
The police bureau says Martley and Hall are both assigned to the night shift at Central Precinct and that each have more than two years experience.
Race relations, in particular with Portland's African American community, have been a difficult subject for the Portland Police Bureau and something it's spent years trying to improve. It's even admitted publicly that racial bias affects some of its officers—a major step toward working on those improvements.
But the subject lingers as a sore spot in the light of several reports and studies showing persistent racial disparities in local police work, from enforcement of gun crime hotspots, to drug zone enforcement, to gang enforcement, to use of force reports, to basic stops and searches.
The bureau has begun training sergeants and command staff on racial sensitivity and awareness. That training has not yet started, if it does at all, for rank and file officers.
"Clearly, yes," says Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch, "we need to have all officers participate in institutional racism training."
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