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Rapping Back #51
Portland Copwatch member Dan Handelman analyzes
The Sheets They Are A-Changin'
Readers of the People's Police Report: We can't begin "Rapping Back" without noting major changes that have gone on at the Rap Sheet, the newspaper of the Portland Police Association (PPA).
On June 20, Detective Pete Simpson stepped down as editor, with three PPA Vice Presidents taking over as an editorial board, determined to post the paper as a web-only monthly publication. Apparently, "union" dues were subsidizing the ad-filled paper to the tune of $3000 a month (April issue). While the front page story in July's issue is a typical, unchallenged tribute to defending officers' use of deadly force, we're hoping that some of the racist and right-wing rhetoric that peppered Simpson's tenure (August 2001-June 2010, recent examples below) will disappear.
Some Cops Put Racist Spin on Calls for Justice, Some Use Shooting of Officer to Start Fresh
Numerous articles in the Rap Sheet addressed the January police shooting death of Aaron Campbell and the May incident in which Keaton Otis was killed and Officer Chris Burley was shot (see article). While a few officers revealed their own racism (and misunderstanding of what racism means), others seemed to hope that, on balance, it's time to move on.
The most shocking piece was written by Stephanie Rabey, the officer who shot and wounded Paul Stewart with an assault rifle in 2007 (PPR #42). Stewart is African American and was unarmed, and Rabey is white (and possibly suffers post traumatic stress from 1998 when another officer shot a man who was lying on top of her--PPR #17). Her piece in the April Rap Sheet claims that the Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA) raising the issue that Campbell was unarmed and African American is "reprehensible and quite frankly smacks of racism." Note to the police: Racism equals prejudice plus power. An African American president notwithstanding, white people still have privilege and power in this country by nature of their skin color; this is not to say white people are therefore racist, just that a black person in America can't be. This doesn't stop Rabey from saying that Officer Frashour, who shot Campbell, is being judged because of his skin color. She wonders what happened to Martin Luther King Jr's dream of judging on the content of character. Interestingly, the first of three sniper shootings of a suspect in the back was Leo Besner, who shot Raymond Gwerder in November 2005-- both men are white, and Gwerder did have a gun... but he was, like Campbell and Stewart, talking to a negotiator on the phone at the time.
Rabey's rant includes barbs thrown at Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton for failing to condemn the African American man who shot four officers in Lakewood, WA in 2009, saying it seems "members within certain communities actually hailed the cop killer as a hero." She "jokes" that one way to prevent these incidents is to change the training so officers have to wait to see a gun... then wait till it is fired so they know it is loaded. Rabey says some who believe this idea "are employed by the City and Police Bureau administration, and they lack the moral courage to confront the radical elements of the community." She urges the City not to cave into "racist" organizations like the AMA, who "failed Campbell in the first place, in effect enabling the criminal lifestyle by their default position of blaming everything on race."
Rabey also complains that Commissioner Randy Leonard "disparaged" police by blaming Campbell's death on poor communication among officers. "How much time does he think we have out there?" she asks, adding that officers can't form committees and think tanks during "rapidly evolving, unpredictable and hostile scenarios." She calls Mayor Sam Adams on the carpet for meeting with the AMA. To Adams' statement that "Campbell didn't have to die," Rabey "couldn't agree more." She believes he failed to comply with officer commands and that's why he is dead.
Retired Lt. Bill Hansperger echoed similar sentiments in a letter he wrote to Commissioner Dan "Salzman" [sic] in February, also printed in the April Rap Sheet. Politicians, he says, must "quit pandering to our small band of vocal anti-police race pimps and anarchists. The politicians and AMA are not doing their communities any favors by giving the criminal element the message that they can endanger the public and police officers without consequences." The logical alternative is to withdraw from policing the African American community, as "proposed by members of the AMA and chronically self appointed spokespersons like Janet [sic-he means JoAnn] Bowman and now [Attorney General John] Kroger." Actually, Kroger warned that if the shootings don't stop, police will not have the trust of the black community. Hansperger admits his solution seems ridiculous, but no more than "racist pimp rhetoric being engaged in by the politicians and the media."
Much more positive about community relations, Officer Jim Quackenbush (#36875), who negotiated with Campbell until Campbell came outside and was shot seconds later, wrote a piece in April called "Time of Tragedy: Division or opportunity?" He speaks proudly of participating in the Office of Human Relations' "Intergroup Dialogues" which bring together members of minority communities and the police. He participated in one with members of the African American community in May, saying he was initially skeptical but is now a "true believer." He tries to put his fellow officers at ease by saying "Don't misunderstand this process as a touchy-feely crying and hugging session, a debate," or a blame game. It's about education. And it's confidential. Don't get us wrong--Portland Copwatch is all for dialogue instead of divisiveness and violence. However, until the wrongs done to the community are righted and the power structure equalized, these dialogues in fact could make things worse. Imagine the reconciliation process in South Africa if the white power structure had never handed over the reins to Nelson Mandela.
Quackenbush seems to have missed this point, focusing on individual action rather than structural and institutional issues. "Politicians, civil rights leaders, ministers, left and right wing extremists, judges, juries, lawyers and opportunists" have given their opinions about the Campbell shooting, he says. How about you? "At the end of the day, it's not Copwatch, the Oregonian, the Willamette Week, City Council or IPR that change the world, it's us as individuals." Still, he says, in contrast to Rabey, "No one wanted Aaron Campbell to die. But here we are, and... we have great responsibility."
The upbeat and detatched concept that the community can just forget all the harms done by police (which continue while the dialogues take place) got a new boost after the police shot and killed Keaton Otis on May 12, and bullets attributed to a gun recovered on the scene hit and wounded Officer Chris Burley. Again, to be clear, our goal at PCW is to see that everyone goes home safe from traffic stops--both the police and the public. But hitting a young African American man with 23 shots (out of 32 bullets) after pulling him over for "looking like a gangster" brings up the question of institutional racism once again.
A few officers write about the incident in a balanced manner. The Bureau's own gang-like Hotspot Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) wrote a "thank you" to other officers and the community in the June Rap Sheet. They simply state that events leading to the "unfortunate death of Keaton Otis and injuries to Officer Chris Burley showed the strength and character of many members of the PPB." But their mentality is revealed as they talk about the "risks" they take in their work "chasing bad guys."
Showing he explicitly believes the police version of the story, Acting PPA President Dave Dobler wrote about Burley making a positive impact teaching Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) at Floyd Light middle school "after Officer Burley was shot twice by Keaton Otis during a traffic stop." But that doesn't mean Burley was right to try dragging Keaton Otis out of his car by pulling him through the window. Dobler adds that Lt. George Burke successfully performed CPR on a man while off duty at a Hillsboro restaurant, while other officers help out at soup kitchens and do home repair.
Interestingly, in the May issue Dobler was even more biased, stating that Burley had a "deadly encounter with attempted murder suspect Keaton Dupree Otis." At the time they stopped Otis, he had no criminal record. Dobler added that the HEAT team acted as "consummate professionals... [with] no option but lethal force to stop Mr. Otis' violent attack." To his fellow officers, Dobler adds, "We should not lose heart because of the vocal, critical few who, regardless of fact, will never support us."
Good Sign: New Rap Sheet Urges Calm Response to Those with Mental Illness
The July Rap Sheet features six reminders for contact with "emotionally disturbed people"
from PoliceOne.com. Included are the reminders that officers are "not there to harm the
person," to stay "calm, calculated and controlled," and to "be patient, it's worth it."
It's a Dangerous Job, OK?
In defending the shooting of Keaton Otis, Dobler calls policing an "honorable and dangerous job." Cornelia Seigneur, in her blog post reprinted in the May issue criticizing the co-owner of the Red and Black Cafe for asking an officer to leave (see p. 8), said "People hear about the unfortunate police shootings, but not the day in and day out reality of police putting their lives on the line and saving people."
But the May Rap Sheet also notes a few important facts: 2009 saw the lowest number of US officers killed in the line of duty in 50 years, and for the 12th year in a row, the number who died in traffic accidents was higher than those shot or killed in other ways. 116 officers died on duty last year, with 49 dying by gunfire; the last lowest number was 109 in 1959.
Contempt of Community, Continued
Lest you get the wrong idea from officers willing to talk to the community, Officer Rob Blanck wrote a lengthy tirade in the April Rap Sheet making it clear that he doesn't believe in Community Policing. Growing up in California, he said, when police brought home young people, the parents' reaction was "what did my child do?" Now the question is "what did you do to my kid?" and even worse, you're "rarely met by a biological parent... [but instead by] a foster parent, guardian, shack-up significant other or substitute extended family member." Blanck asserts that such non-traditional families will fail them throughout their "often all-too- short lives." When the bad mixture of "pride, disrespect, indifference and chronic drug and alcohol abuse [are combined] with a weapon, society doesn't call a counselor, teacher, politician, doctor or lawyer," adds Blanck, it's the cops. "This is not a game, political statement or stand against a perceived social injustice, it's survival."
Blanck links what he calls two bad ideas: (1) "The 60's radical idea of the right to 'question authority.'" Why question authority, says Blanck, instead of being respectful and if necessary questioning it later? (2) That "those who suffer from mental disorders are best served minimally supervised in the general public as opposed to institutions." He complains about Crisis Intervention Training: Police get 40 hours of "training" involving lecture, movie clips and conjecture. "We try to de-escalate, redirect and calmly talk." Meanwhile social workers "hide in the corner" and want cops to act like hospital guards, but cops have no padded walls or calming sedatives and may face weapons. "The young, ignorant and idealistic social workers are pulled into the equation with their antiseptic education at one of the liberal arts 'colleges,' having endured years of brainwashing by the same 60's rejects who traded in their bumper sticker laden VW vans for a Lexus or Subaru."
Norm Costa, a long-time fixture on the "Chief's Forum," which was mostly used for the Bureau to present its new initiatives as dog-and-pony shows with no pushback, says in a letter (April Rap Sheet) that Chief Sizer disbanded the Forum because it was "out of control for positive change." (We have no idea what that means.) Costa feels there still needs to be a sounding board of "Neighborhood Associations, the Portland Police Association and... City Government" (wouldn't want any ax-grinding community members affected by police misconduct at the table!). He frets about the divisions among the Chief, the PPA and the Albina Ministerial "Association" [Alliance].
Another letter, from retired officer Mark White, encourages officers to maintain their mental health
by following the philosophies of "Shelter in place" and "Positive disengagement."
We don't know what these mean either. However, they are likely ways to avoid the community, as
he follows with the statement: "It troubles me to see the vocal, minority forces at work in
Portland that unintentionally promote what socialists label 'de-policing.'" HEY!--who are you
Blanck's April article is truly one of the more amazing rants in the Rap Sheet and we don't have room to share it all with you. Check it out on line. Here are other highlights:
--"Progressive/liberal opinions represent a curious form of tyranny-- idea over reality."
--Cops deal with "low rent apartment carpets stained with decaying food and feces."
--"This is why such polarizing tragedies with the names of Chasse, James, Mejia-Poot, Perez and Campbell will be a list that continues to grow."
--It's not "because police are doing something wrong, rather society is allowing the idiots to run the village."
The Portland Police Association does not set policy. However, some PPA leadership and officers express negative attitudes toward citizens and civilian oversight in their newspaper, so we worry these ideas may spread throughout Portland's rank-and- file.
The Rap Sheet is available from the Portland Police
1313 NW 19th, Portland, OR 97209.
The PPA's website is <www.ppavigil.org>
The Rap Sheet is available from the Portland Police
1313 NW 19th, Portland, OR 97209.
The PPA's website is <www.ppavigil.org>
Portland Shootings on the Rise
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through citizen action.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.