Pedestrian Stops Three Times Higher
for African American Portlanders
Racial Profiling Discussion Pushes More Buttons as Committee Begins Meeting

In late January, the Oregon Action/City of Portland Racial Profiling Committee met for the first time. At the second meeting, it was discovered that the Bureau's statistics which show people of color are being stopped by police roughly 2.5 times more often than their white counterparts (PPRs #39-40), were actually incomplete--only traffic stops were included, not pedestrian and bicycle stops. Those other statistics, released in March, showed an even higher disparity for African American pedestrians in Portland: they account for 24% of the stops but only 7% of the population, or 3.4 times the proportionate representation in the community. This means they are roughly four times more likely than whites (75% of the population, 64% of stops) to be stopped on the street.

New statistics for 2006 traffic stops were mostly similar to earlier numbers, except that Latino drivers were searched 10% of the time, up from 8% in 2005 and 6% in 2004.

Drowned under heaps of paperwork and an unclear set of goals, the Committee met three times as of March 22, but hasn't made much progress. Alejandro Queral of the Northwest Constitutional Rights Center, one of the authors of the report that led to the Committee's formation, and Portland Copwatch member Dan Handelman sit on the Committee. Queral raised concerns about the low end of the spectrum--stop-and-talks that don't rise to the level of a formal police action--and Handelman about the high end--how many of the stops ended with the use of force or deadly force--but answers do not seem to be forthcoming.

Committee member Willie Brown, an African American community activist who works at the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, spoke about personal experiences where "mere conversations" with officers became something else when they wrote his name in a notebook. If there's no suspicion of criminal activity, he wondered, why would officers do that?

Although the Portland Police Association (PPA) was not happy about the interpretation of statistics as evidence of Racial Profiling, President Robert King agreed to sit at the table. At the second meeting, his replacement, Vice President Daryl Turner, was not allowed to speak because one rule (not supported by Portland Copwatch) says that only the original appointed member will be able to speak. Commenting on his experience in the PPA's newsletter, the Rap Sheet (March 2007), Turner noted that only Chief Sizer and Detective Dave Hendrie were there for the police while others "never stood on a front door on a search warrant; on an icy freeway... directing traffic; [or fought] with a mentally ill person who has gone off their medication....Some of the appointees are motivated solely by politics." Actually, Dr. Annette Jolin of PSU's Criminology and Criminal Justice Department is a former police officer and teaches aspiring cops, but who's counting?

As for King, he expressed his concern in a letter to Mayor Potter that a goal of the Committee is to "identify ways to eliminate" profiling, hammering Potter for "undermining" the police by having "tried and convicted them before the first meeting." King decided to go to meetings to explain that they don't do racial, but rather criminal, profiling. He added, "I am not going to stand by and allow police to be blamed out of simple political expediency" (February Rap Sheet).

The bulk of the Committee's March meeting was used up by Diane Schneider, a member of the U.S. Department of Justice, who passed around presentations by other organizations about "racially biased policing" but didn't offer the group any concrete information of her own.

Some progress is being made; as noted in the March 22 Portland Mercury, PPA President King told Oregon Action's Joann Bowman, co-chair of the Committee, "I heard you say very clearly that your involvement...was a result of people feeling hurt by the police... we've talked about restoring trust and respect.... and I am committed to helping with that."

For information on the Racial Profiling Committee contact Oregon Action at 503-282-6588.>


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