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Forums Bring Portland Misconduct Tales to the Department of Justice In February, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) attended two public forums in Portland as part of their current review of use of force by the Portland Police Bureau (PPB). The first forum was held by the Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA) Coalition for
Justice and Police Reform at Portland Community College. It was attended by two members of the DOJ, though new U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall missed most of the meeting. At the forum, three African American parents whose children were killed by Portland Police testified. Fred Bryant, the father of Keaton Otis, stated that the death of his son began as police said Keaton "looked like he could be a gang member," wouldn't make eye contact, and was wearing a hoodie (PPR #51). Bryant added, "Why was he stopped in the first place and why did he die in 45 seconds?" The mother of Kendra James (shot and killed at a traffic stop in 2003--PPR #30) wondered, "Is it Justice, or JUST US?" Joe Bean Keller testified that his son Deontae had been shot in the back by the Portland Police and lay on the street for a long time before medical teams were called in (PPR #9). By then, it was too late.
Members of Occupy Portland testified about the brutality to which they have been subjected by the police. They spoke of being the victims of and witnessing police conduct such as being taken to the ground, pushed by batons, and being "kettled"-- a police tactic of pushing crowds into spaces where they are no longer able to move and then bringing out the pepper spray and batons. One man stated, "I am afraid [police brutality] will be worse this year as they feel they are accountable to no one."
When the issue of making complaints arose, people noted that complaints are down as there is no confidence in the system, and community members are afraid of retaliation. Also strongly brought out was that racial profiling of young black men is a constant. The moderator of the AMA forum, JoAnn Hardesty (formerly Bowman) stated, "cops go up to young African American boys and say, 'Hi. Is it okay if I search you? Do you live here? Do you have ID?' The kids have to prove they are worthy to be in their own neighborhoods. If you say no (to the police) you become the target of police brutality."
The second forum, organized by the DOJ, was held at the more remote St. John's Community Center on February 28. A panel of DOJ members and the U.S. Attorney listened to the many who attended. Again, there was testimony from African Americans regarding their treatment and the deaths of their children by the PPB. One African American woman testified that an officer twisted her arm when she was six days post cancer surgery, and that her son has been stopped by police over 20 times. Testimony was given by members of Occupy Portland such as a 15 year old boy being punched three times in the face by an officer. Another man who was on the Occupy Peace and Safety Team testified that he had been roughed up by the police "for keeping the peace" and was kicked and stomped.
Public Defender Chris O'Connor testified that he has represented many clients who have been injured by police and he sees Taser marks on some. He expressed his opinion that there is no use filing complaints with the Independent Police Review Division and the main focus for his clients is "staying alive... and God help the kids of color." O'Connor said he could "name the 25 officers who initiate and escalate," are abusive and get away with it.
Jason Renaud said the Mental Health Association of Portland has a list of 220 examples of people in crisis being harmed by the police.
While this was a public meeting and open to anyone, there were no police officers visibly in attendance. However, Assistant City Attorney David Woboril was seen lurking at the back door. A man who had previously testified about being kicked by police while homeless and sleeping on the streets stated he felt nervous about his testimony as he was aware of Woboril's presence.
Meanwhile, the DOJ completed an investigation of the Seattle Police Department. On December 16, they issued a report stating that "inadequate supervision and training have led Seattle police officers to too quickly resort to the use of weapons like batons and flashlights and to escalate confrontations even when arresting people for minor offenses." The investigation began in early 2011 subsequent to the fatal shooting of a homeless Native American man and other reports of force against minorities. While it was determined that the Seattle police have engaged in excessive force that violates both federal law and the Constitution, they were not found to have practiced discriminatory policing. Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn indicated that reforms have already started in response to the report (Oregonian, December 17). Community leaders' response? "We told you so" (Seattle Times, December 16). The outcome of the Portland inquiry could come in months... or never, if the DOJ finds no wrongdoing and decides not to publish their findings.
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through citizen action.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.