On Feb. 15, 2010, The Skanner published an editorial that shocked Portlanders with its blunt message: Don't call the police. We republished the editorial in 2015 believing that our situation remained critical. Police officers--in Portland and across the country-- too often escalate crisis situations, leaving a string of casualties: citizens shot by the police-- many of them Black or other people of color, people without secure housing and people with mental health problems. As Portland Copwatch has documented their number rises every year.
Soon after we published the editorial for the first time, then-President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice initiated a civil rights investigation into policing in Portland. The investigation, one of many across the country, found there was "reasonable cause to believe that PPB engages in a pattern or practice of excessive force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994…”.
After many months of negotiations with the City of Portland, the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, mental health advocates and Portland Police Association, a settlement agreement was approved in federal court presided over by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon. The agreement called for "innovative new mechanisms for ongoing community involvement in the implementation of reforms.”
That was in 2014. Yet here we are again.
Sadly, our advice remains relevant to our communities today.
We publish the article again now in hopes that the fundamental changes needed to prevent further deaths at the hands of our police officers can and will finally be achieved. Here it is:
The recent sorry string of preventable incidents of police violence is pushing the local community into a state of fear and anger that will soon launch Portland into the national spotlight.
On Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010 Jesse Jackson speaks at the Maranatha Church about the violent death of Aaron Campbell at the hands of a police marksman – and many of us are wondering why the police ever had to be on the scene of a grieving, depressed young man who subsequently died of a rifle shot to the back.
The fact is, we at The Skanner News simply have to warn our readers away from calling the police when they are in a crisis situation. We cannot have faith that innocents won’t get caught in the firing line when trigger-finger officers arrive in force. We need to start solving our own problems.
There is a sense in the community of desperation at this situation never seems to change because there are no consequences to the officers who do the shooting.
We should be more like our Asian brothers and sisters and solve our own problems. We as adults need to talk to these young men to de-escalate the situation ourselves. In fact, Campbell’s family was trying to do that very thing. His young cousin told The Skanner News they had talked him into putting the gun down and giving himself up to the police – sadly he was dead by the time they were able to pass through roadblocks to the scene. It’s a shame anyone called 911 at all.
As Rev. T. Allen Bethel and others spoke so forcefully about the case last week, we would like to add that our religious and community leaders could also, as part of the solution, start making it a point to teach young people how to solve problems and de-escalate potential violence. As long as we expect some force outside ourselves to fix our situation, we will always be disappointed in the result.
And this is a particularly bad case. Even the Multnomah County Grand Jury that exonerated Officer Ron Frashour earlier this month has taken the uncharacteristic step of writing an open letter of protest to District Attorney Mike Schrunk outlining multiple problems with the police action that resulted in Campbell’s death Jan. 28. Read the full text of the letter.
We commend Schrunk for releasing it to the public, Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman for already stepping up and outlining new measures to address a few of the community fears around police mistakes such as this, and Chief Rosie Sizer for making an effort at transparency regarding policies and procedures that led to the tragedy.
However none of that excuses the most shocking aspect in this case -- the use of a police attack dog, which, the Grand Jury letter implies, may well have been set on Campbell just before he was fatally shot for alleged noncompliance. The Grand Jury letter indicates that no other officer except Frashour saw Campbell’s hands move toward the back waistband of his pants. It begs the question: Was Campbell running away from an attack dog loosed on him by an officer, only to be shot because he was running away?
Each and every city leader should be aware of the special brand of fear – and repulsion – inspired by the use of police dogs against unarmed African Americans in this country. The tools Bull Connor used to beat down Civil Rights marchers, the weapons used by enslavers against those who would have escaped from bondage, police dogs have no place on the scene of a “welfare check” on a suicidally-despondent Black man.
We are watching with interest how the tragic death of Aaron Campbell is soon to play out on the national stage. (Update: read about the court’s order to rehire Frashour.) But in the meantime – if you are in crisis in Portland, think twice before you bring in law enforcement.
James Chasse, Kendra James, James Jahar Perez, Jose Santos Victor Mejia Poot, Damon Lowery, Duane Anthony Shaw, Byron Hammick, Deonte Keller. What do all these people have in common? All were killed at the hands of the police. Think twice.
What do you think?