While giving praise to Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer's latest plan to end racial profiling, critics still say there are issues that remain unaddressed by the police bureau.
Led by members and supporters of Oregon Action, community leaders told the city council that individual police officers need to be held personally accountable, the city council needs to take a more direct responsibility for the actions of the police bureau, training must be improved and business cards should be handed out during every interaction an officer has with the public.
"Police do have to present themselves in a more humane manner," James Wilson, said during testimony.
The criticism and praise was leveled during the Sept. 2 Portland City Council Meeting where Sizer presented the newest Plan to Address Racial Profiling, originally released in January of this year. The plan was the culmination of community meetings dating back to 1999. After establishing a series of community listening sessions in 2006, the city's Racial Profiling Committee contributed to the bureau's plan. A copy of the plan can be downloaded here:
Joann Bowman – who chaired the Racial Profiling Committee – told the commissioners that all of the efforts to put a stop to the elusive problem might be futile. The city's fight against gang activity tends to target only minority youth.
"I have the expectation that officers are well trained enough not to stop every African American male child from the ages of 12 to 24," she said. "But the effort is so broadly focused that every African American or Hispanic child is impacted."
Other testimony suggested that the problem was nearly invisible to most White people. One White commenter said once he left the meeting, he didn't have to worry about racial profiling – not so for those with darker skin.
Clifford Walker, chairman of the Oregon Commission on Black Affairs, said he could still recall when the city opened drinking fountains and housing to Blacks and was optimistic that an end to racial profiling was in sight. But when he looked at all the buildings and streets named after White supremacists and slave owners, it made it hard for him to escape the notion that the city honored such racism.
Barry Stull said the proliferation of racial profiling is due to our 80-year-old national prohibition of drugs. It is well-documented that fear and racism against Mexicans, African Americans and Chinese were the primary reasons marijuana, cocaine and opium were originally made illegal in the early half of the 20th century.
"Our drug laws are inherently racist," Stull said, looking no further than the vast disparity in the number of African Americans who are jailed or who are searched for contraband, despite studies that show they are less likely to be found with illegal drugs.
While critics had plenty to say, they also had plenty to praise. Bowman and others said Sizer is genuinely concerned about putting a stop to the practice. Sizer herself was surprisingly candid when she revealed her own subconscious prejudices – prejudices she says she doesn't act on and works to dismiss. She says other police officers are no different.
"We hire from the American public," she said. "They are not immune from racial bias."
She said she was proud to change the definition of racial profiling from a "sole reliance on race" to perform a stop to an "inappropriate reliance on race" to decide to stop an individual.
She says she continues to make the business-related case for dealing with racial profiling – a practice that former Police Union President Robert King long denied was a problem. It hurts officer safety, it's the right thing to do, reduces risk of expensive litigation and police can be more effective in their societal role.
Regardless of praise and criticism, the real world practices of police and the community they patrol will soon have the final word on what parts of the plan work and what don't. Sizer says she plans to issue an annual report on its effectiveness and update the plan as she sees fit.
With a renewed plan to hire a department that reflects its community, a new records system, new training, community involvement in hires and in-dash cameras for every patrol car, Sizer hopes it can begin repairing a very long history of animosity between communities of color and the officers that patrol their neighborhoods.
Much of that animosity still lives with people in Portland.
"Keep the police out of their faces," said Helen Sherman, a longtime resident. "Stop killing our people!"