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Racial Profiling Jumps on Nation's Radar, Treads Water in Portland

When Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested in his own home by Cambridge, MA police, the issue of racial profiling leapt to the forefront of the national news because Gates' friend, President Barack Obama, said the police "acted stupidly." Gates had shown his identification to an officer who was, in essence, accusing him of breaking into his own home. But for thousands of African Americans around the country, and in Portland, who will not be invited to the White House for a beer (as Gates was), questions remain about progress. Although Chief Rosie Sizer's plan to reduce Racial Profiling in Portland has been out for roughly six months (PPR #47), it is unclear what impact it is having, other than Sizer being invited on NPR to discuss the issue after Obama's remarks were made.

The current group charged with looking at the issue in a public venue is the Human Relations Commission (HRC)'s Community/Police Relations Committee (CPRC). As we noted in our last issue, the CPRC avoided discussing apparent profiling of young black men in Northeast Portland in February to avoid making Assistant Chief Brian Martinek uncomfortable. While CPRC Chair Héctor López did press Martinek for answers at the group's May meeting, the reply was mostly that the saturation policy of "Operation Cool Down" was no longer in effect. Martinek threw up his hands saying that some people in the community were asking police to do whatever it takes to end the violence, and others said not to conduct searches on every young African American on the street. It seems simple enough that police do not have to throw civil liberties out the window to investigate actual violent crime, rather than crime they perceive may be lying under the surface because of a person's looks or the car they drive.

It's possible that the CPRC will be able to move forward with its work a little better now, as HRC members López, Arwen Bird, Abdul Majidi and Donita Fry were joined by new citizen members Patricia Ford (Miracles Club), Tori Lopez (Multnomah County Juvenile Justice), Darryl Kelly, Jr (PSU Upward Bound program) and Stephen Manning (immigration attorney) at their July meeting. In addition to Martinek and Commander Mike Crebs, the Bureau added officers Mike Chapin (who is African American), Natasha Hausperger (who is Croatian), and Sgt. Anthony Passadore, who shot and wounded a suspect after a car chase in 2006 (PPR #40). Also included is Officer Deanna Wesson, the only member of the Mayor's Racial Profiling Committee (RPC) now serving on the CPRC. Wesson, who is also African American, spent a lot of time on the RPC debating whether black people commit more crimes, as shown by murder rates and other statistics, rather than looking at officer behavior. It will be interesting to observe this new committee's progress, especially if the Bureau ever informs them about data collection and "hit rate" studies allegedly being done internally behind closed doors.

After the Citizen Review Committee (CRC)'s July meeting, PCW was informed that the Bureau's proposed way to offer business cards at every stop will be to include a business card on tickets and warnings printed on new wireless citation-generating machines. This hardly gets at the reason for handing out the cards--instead of being a friendly gesture, it is now sort of an "f-you" attached to your ticket.

Speaking of the CRC, community activist Marta Guembes, who was a prominent part of protests against the shootings of José Santos Mejía Poot, Kendra James and James Jahar Perez, filed a complaint with the "Independent" Police Review Division after she said Sgt. Liani Reyna pulled her over in her own neighborhood because she was Latino. Guembes, who also spearheaded the efforts to rename 39th Ave for labor leader César Chávez, said Reyna accused her of failing to signal a turn when she was slowly driving around her neighborhood to find her son. According to the June 18 Portland Tribune, Reyna told Guembes she "looked suspicious," which was justified by Internal Affairs in their letter declining to investigate as meaning "your behavior did look suspicious based on her training and experience." Guembes says the IPR called her after the article appeared, and the case is getting a second look.

Interestingly, Reyna was the whistleblower who exposed Portland's SERT team for having sexist hazing rituals, and was herself reprimanded for taking part in them (PPR #26).

  People's Police Report

September, 2009
Also in PPR #48

Force Report: Disparities in Who Gets Hit
Sit/Lie Suspended
Chasse Family Partial Settlement Reached
  • Salem Man Dies After Taser Use
Review Board Reports&1st 2009 Hearing
"Sheriff" Skipper Skips School
Cop Arrested for Sexual Calls
  • Lake Oswego Lets Rapist Cop Keep Working
City Pays More for Misbehaving Cops
Council Pays for Secret List
Racial Profiling Treads Water in Portland
Legal Briefs: Supreme Court Strengthens Rights
Quick Flashes #48
  • Houseless Camping at Gay Pride Parade
  • Cops Don't Investigate Homophobic Assault
  • Deputy Charged in Off-Duty Taser Use
Rapping Back #48

Portland Copwatch
PO Box 42456
Portland, OR 97242
(503) 236-3065/ Incident Report Line (503) 321-5120
e-mail: copwatch@portlandcopwatch.org

Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.

People's Police Report #48 Table of Contents
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