People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
City Hall Vigil Challenges "Re-zone"; Man Wins Trial Over Wooden Pallet
Although the Sidewalk Management Committee is now apparently defunct, the fight over whether the City has the right to push homeless people out of the public eye continues. A 24-hour vigil in front of City Hall, an offshoot of Occupy Portland, marked its one year anniversary in November. Portland Copwatch (PCW) held a "your rights and the police" seminar for about 20 people involved in the action, who all had stories to tell of witnessing or experiencing police harassment. One person, known as "99," has been repeatedly arrested for alleged violations related to the sidewalk management ordinance (what we call Sit/Lie 4.0). Another, known as "Kernel Moses," was arrested early in 2012 for lying down on a wooden pallet; the judge in his case declared that such an object, barely a few inches off the ground and essentially a few slabs of wood, could not be considered a "structure" under the anti-camping ordinance.
Part of the stepped-up enforcement at City Hall was described in the October Sidewalks meeting as a "re-zoning," in which the Portland Department of Transportation can declare any sidewalk as a high pedestrian area that does not allow people to sit or lie even in the curb area assigned by the ordinance to most sidewalks. (We've previously written about how cruel it is to put homeless people by the curb where car doors are constantly opening, and in a city where it rains 70% of the year.)
Meanwhile, the statistics being released by Commissioner Amanda Fritz's office around the enforcement of Sit/Lie have been irregular, with five of the first ten months never released, and only a few months' data posted on line. In 2011, 11% of the contacts were with African Americans in a city that is 6% black (in PPR #55 we erroneously wrote it was 14%, which was the percentage of people of color contacted in 2011). In 2012, that number appears to have improved: only about 7% of reported contacts were with African Americans. However, the police increasingly target homeless people, who made up 58% of those warned/cited in 2011, but 85% in 2012.
In October, the rest area for homeless folks Right 2 Dream Too celebrated one year. Despite facing fines from Commissioner Dan Saltzman's Bureau of Development Services (PPR #57), property owner Michael Wright spoke at the celebration signing a new lease, saying he began the project to tweak the City's nose, but came to see he is really helping people. On December 11, R2D2 filed suit against the City, prompting the Portland Business Alliance to call for a crackdown (Mercury Blog, December 12).
On October 16, PCW's Dan Handelman attended an "Illegal Gun Ordinance Oversight Committee" meeting by invitation. The only two members of the Committee there (both civilians) addressed why their annual report referenced "black-style gangs" (PPR #57). Officer Russ Corno had explained to them that people at national conferences use this terminology, derived from "Crips and Bloods" and "LA-style street gangs." Corno said Portland could try to change the terminology, but it is needed to communicate nationally in the "industry," like doctors use certain short-hand medical terms.
Handelman pointed out that although the Gang Enforcement Team tracks down guns and violence, using the term "black-style gangs" means the first thing they will look for is a person's skin color; the group seemed to understand. However, Committee members argued that the reason African Americans make up only 52% of "illegal gun crime" arrests but 86% of the exclusions is that the Zones under scrutiny are "predominantly" African American. There is not one neighborhood in Portland that is 86% black. It remains to be seen if PCW's comments will make a difference.
In the Agreement between the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the City (p. 1), one item specifically hailed and asked to be continued, which has no direct connection to police violence against people with mental illness, is the Service Coordination Team (SCT). Previously known as the "secret list" program (PPR #49), SCT uses a list of people who were arrested multiple times on drug charges to determine who they will force into a choice between a felony rap or drug treatment. When public defender Chris O'Connor looked at statistics in 2009, they showed that 52% of people in the program were black in a city that is 6% African American (PPR #47). While it is good to get people into treatment rather than jail, it is questionable whether such social service triage should be done by police rather than appropriate agencies, and why money is available for people who have criminal records to get treatment, but not others who may seek it. SCT slowly matriculated into Council's purview but was never truly debated.
In the Mayor's proposed $5.3 million annual budget to fund what he thinks will accommodate the DOJ report, which includes more staff at Internal Affairs and the Independent Police Review Division, about $1.8 million is slated to continue SCT.
MORE DISPARITY: On December 19, the Mercury reported that 39% of people convicted in the "Illegal Drug Impact Areas" (PPR #56) are African American, yet 55% of those arrested for trespassing after being excluded from the Areas are African American. The Illegal Gun Ordinance Oversight Committee looks at one set of statistics, the Community/Police Relations Committee looks at traffic and pedestrian stop data (article), and the Sidewalk Management committee receives (but doesn't examine) Sit/Lie statistics, yet nobody is pulling all the data together to examine the pattern of what amounts to a "New Jim Crow" set of laws that disproportion-ately affect African Americans.
In late September, City Council voted to extend the contract of Dr. David Corey, Portland's police psychologist since 1999, until the end of October while it sought to meet community demands to diversify psychological screening. Corey's five-year contract, awarded in February, was shortened to six months while the City re-booted recruitment (PPR #56). But the City did not let anyone know when the process was opened, and Corey was chosen again in August from a pool of just two applicants. Two days before Thanksgiving, the Mayor asked for input to improve screening. Ideas will be considered by an unnamed panel of experts. While this is a far cry from actually recruiting a diverse panel of psychologists-- or even forcing Corey to subcontract so his perspective as a white man from Lake Oswego doesn't dominate exams-- at least Corey himself said the idea of diversity "warrants serious consideration" (Oregonian, October 23).
At a discussion on race and police at Portland Community College in November, two major themes arose. One: The Portland Police Bureau (PPB)'s focused stops of people for "quality of life" crimes on NE Killingsworth over the summer resulted in a stop rate of 89% for African Americans (180 of 228 listed). JoAnn Hardesty, who hosted the event, received the data without having to pay $1400 as initially requested (PPR #57). Two: PPB officers' continued presence at high school football games in Portland, especially at Jefferson and Roosevelt, two schools with large African American attendance, causes many to feel uncomfortable and over- policed. Some people reported feeling like suspects simply for being at the games. The Skanner (November 9) quoted a Jefferson High senior: "You feel singled out and ostracized and like you're doing something wrong by being in that area." Some noted that police don't show up when the same teams play in other towns, underscoring the racial bias shown by Portland's cops.
On November 23, PCW co-sponsored the Portland Peaceful Response Coalition's rally opposing FBI sting operations framing so-called "terrorists," exactly two years after such a sting nabbed Somali teen Mohamed Mohamud in Portland. At the 2010 Pioneer Square holiday tree lighting, Portland cops helped the FBI find parking for a van they told Mohamud was full of explosives, leading him to attempt detonation, which in turn led to his arrest and the City re-joining the Joint Terrorism Task Force (PPRs #52 & 54). Calling attention to similar ruses predominantly against Muslim immigrants, the rally garnered mention in the Oregonian (November 24) and on KOIN-TV 6. PCW cited Adel Daoud, a teen arrested in Chicago in September when the FBI told him he'd be blowing up a crowded bar (Agence France Presse, September 16) and Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, a 21-year-old Bangladeshi man who thought he was going to blow up New York's Federal Reserve Bank in October (CNN, October 18).
Charlie Hales, the only City Commissioner ever to vote against the JTTF (PPR #25), will become Mayor in January when a report on the Police Bureau's activities with the FBI is supposed to be issued. Last year's report was unacceptably thin (PPR #56).
On November 26, the US Supreme Court essentially upheld the right of Americans to videotape police officers performing their duties in public places when it refused to hear an appeal of a 7th Circuit Court decision finding "police on the job have no reasonable expectation of privacy" (Huffington Post, November 27). Adding to the 1st Circuit's decision in the Glik case (PPR #55) and the Department of Justice's affirmation of the right to tape in Baltimore (PPR #57), this is a major victory specifically for the Copwatch movement, but also generally for the public and its right to hold law enforcement accountable.
* Sean Hartfield won just $5000 for his unlawful arrest by "Million Dollar Man" Sgt. Leo Besner (PPR #52), possibly because he was defending his own business with a gun.
* Jose Gasque won $11,250 for Officer Tequila Thurman falsely arresting and assaulting him after he asserted his rights (PPR #55) (both stories: Oregonian, November 8).
* Gallagher Smith won $306,000 for being tasered and pepper-sprayed by Officers Patrick Johnson and Sean McFarland after allegedly jaywalking downtown (Oregonlive, December 10).
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.