Lew and Rep. Tina Kotek Speak on the House Floor Regarding Police Incidents in North and Northeast Portland
Portland’s Black Community has felt under siege, and has seen the police as an occupying force for many years. Sizer and her predecessors have tried to build bridges. But the way the police union responded to the bean bag incident, as well as the repeated incidents, have undermined those efforts. And every time another member of our community dies and the use of force is characterized as “consistent with procedures and training,” our confidence in the system sinks even lower.
I am not surprised by Bernie’s editorial. In fact I’m betting he wrote a much more inflammatory one and chose to tone it down.
I am also not as encouraged as I’d like to be by the response from the rank and file of the police union. A number of officers, black and white, have talked with me on the street and in the grocery store, very upset about the attitudes of their fellow police officers, but also very clear that they would be ostracized if they went public with their concerns. They’ve seen it happen before.
There is a belief among some of the rank and file that they can do whatever they want. While we all acknowledge the incredible stress and dangerous nature of police work, there is clearly a need to rein in the “cowboys” and get rid of the cowboy attitude. We are not just worried about the actions of the police officers; we’re also worried about their training and motivation. “Us vs. Them” is clearly a primary orientation in their training. I understand why and why it works. But I also understand that it sets up whole groups of folks as “Them.” And ”Them” includes anyone with darker skin who is not wearing a blue uniform. Those with darker skin who do wear a blue uniform have to prove themselves every day. Those without a uniform are approached with suspicion and fear. And suspicion and fear lead to overreaction.
And let me just say one more thing: I realize that the day to day interactions of community policing are just not interesting to a many reporterjournalists. But the constant drumbeat of outrageous attacks and actions in mainstream media (news and drama series) do not help. If the primary narrative is that every encounter with police is a gun battle, it can only lead to escalated tension on both sides. It gets past the idea of being prepared for the worst and moves towards the idea that the worst is normal. That feeds on itself. It means that any encounter with a non-police person is seen as a threat. Any encounter with a police officer by a citizen is seen as a potential disaster. Neither helps bring tensions down.