The family of Richard "Dickie" Dow, who died after eight police officers beat, pepper-sprayed, handcuffed, and piled on him, continues to hold vigils in Dickie's memory. The vigils have occurred monthly since Dow's death on October 20. While the family has retained an attorney and continues to remember Dickie publicly, no new information on the case has come out since the grand jury cleared the officers of criminal wrongdoing in November.
What is interesting is the sentiments of numerous Portland Police officers, who were generous enough to share their thoughts in the December issue of the Portland Police Association (PPA) newsletter, the Rap Sheet. Phil Blanchard writes "You say you love us but you don't." He complains that the Nov. 14 Oregonian headline read "Grand Jury returns no indictment in death." He refers to the incident as "the unfortunate death of a man who died while in police custody from positional asphyxia, after a fight that required eight officers to arrest him."
Blanchard feels offended that the thrust of the Oregonian article is that although they were cleared of criminal charges, the officers did something wrong, "and there was still a chance for the public to exact their revenge on them."
Tom Mack, the Secretary Treasurer of the PPA, says he wants to "reaffirm confidence in the officers involved in the recent in-custody death which occurred in North Precinct. After the media speculation and lynch mob mentality were put to rest," the investigation concluded the officers' actions were justifiable, Mack notes. "Certainly we would like to find another way to control violent and uncooperative suspects that doesn't result in death or injury, but no one seems to have come up with a viable alternative to controlling people when they are in these states of mind. The truth of the matter is that Mr. Dow and his family were always in a position to comply with officers' directions and had they done so no harm would have come to Mr. Dow during this incident." And if police had listened to the parents, who were explaining Dickie's mental health condition, this wouldn't have happened either.
Mark Romanaggi writes "Let's really do some community policing." In his opinion, the news coverage of Dickie Dow's death was "sensationalized to make Dow appear as a helpless victim at the hands of the police." His main complaint is lack of support from Mayor Katz (who said "It is extremely important that none of us‹city officials, police, citizens or the media‹jump to conclusions before the facts are fully known" [Oregonian, 10/21/98]) and Chief Moose (who said, "I want to stress there is no indication of any intent of malice by any officer involved" [Oregonian 10/23/99]). Romanaggi says (wrong-headedly, in our opinion) that the Chief is afraid to speak out against the Mayor for political reasons, since he is appointed by her. Anyone following police issues in this city knows that it is the Mayor who bends over backward to keep from pissing off the Chief.
In any case, Romanaggi suggests an interesting solution: A change in the city charter to hire the chief via a Police Commission, allowing the Chief to be accountable to the city as a whole. This is something worth considering, though like a police review board, it would have to be a police commission not made up primarily of people with direct ties to the police.
In summary, Tom Mack quotes a Charles Webb, Ph.D. of California State University, as saying that people hire police to "do the dirty work of protecting us...to keep the bad guys out of our businesses, cars and houses, out of our face. We just don't want to see how it's done." That's a chilling thought. Let's take a look at how it's being done, and be sure it's something we'd feel comfortable having inflicted on ourselves or our families.
To get information on the monthly vigils, e-mail email@example.com or call (360) 576- 0634.
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