People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
WHY I WON'T SHAKE HANDS WITH YOU, COMMANDER
On February 13, I was one of two members of Portland Copwatch attending a meeting of the Citizen Review Committee (CRC)'s Crowd Control work group at Central Precinct (article). Commander Bob Day was the main presenter for the Portland Police Bureau (PPB), and throughout his explanations of why the police send variously armed and armored human, animal and vehicular units to confront people expressing their First Amendment rights, he peppered insults toward Portland Copwatch ("Dan will probably write that up in the newsletter wrong," etc.)* At the end of the meeting, Commander Day extended his hand and was surprised when I refused to shake it.
The reasons are many, and I would have acted the same way even without the personal and institutional insults the Commander had engaged in. After all, many Bureau members think of Portland Copwatch's pro-accountability stance as "anti-police," and yet several of their ranks continue to try to shake hands with us, so it's not about taking this personally. However, it does defy logic for a person to make such remarks repeatedly toward an observer at a meeting--whose ability to respond is limited--and then expect warm feelings at the end. And, incidentally, Commander Day brought up on his own that I had filed a complaint against him many years ago... we took that complaint to a confidential mediation session and agreed to disagree.
Here are reasons you should not expect me to shake your hand, Commander Day (or for that matter, Officer Turner or Commander Crebs... or most any other officer in uniform and on duty):
1-- In the early 1990s, the PPB public information officer shook hands with one of our members. Just as that happened, a camera bulb flashed. It was fairly clear that the handshake was set up to show someone from Portland Copwatch** shaking hands with the police.
2-- About ten years later, another of our members was observing police making an arrest. While one officer handled the arrestee, the other officer came to the Copwatcher and shook his hand, explaining what was going on. As the arrestee was driven away in a patrol car, he cursed and gestured at the Copwatcher that he would "get him"-- because he assumed, we believe, due to the handshake, that the Copwatcher was working with the police.
3-- The majority of the work we do is with people who have been mistreated, disrespected, beaten, tasered, shot at, lost a loved one at the hands of, or otherwise had not very good experiences with the police. Even when we are in the presence of officers whom we can respect, we need to be clear with the public that we are not affiliated with the Portland Police Bureau. (We would hope that the "Independent" Police Review division staff and CRC have also learned this over the years.)
So, while we do appreciate that each officer is a person, and that policing can sometimes be a difficult and thankless profession, we hope that the Bureau understands that promoting peace and police accountability are also difficult and thankless volunteer tasks which require the trust of our community. Our power lies in our ability to organize; your power derives from the barrel of your gun, the law, the courts, and hundreds of years of oppression. Our criticisms of officers' actions, Bureau policies and statistical trends are not personal insults, nor is my lack of wanting to shake your hand. It is more about the meaning behind the badge, gun, pepper spray, baton, taser, and uniform you wear and the institution those items represent. Maybe if I were to see you out and about in the community, off duty, not armed, and not in a professional setting, things would be different. But surely, Commander Day, inside Central Precinct, in the presence of a reporter, probable security cameras, and folks from the CRC, I will not shake your hand, or any police officer's hand. This is not intended as a challenge or absolute by any means--some of us are caught off guard at times in meeting or crowd settings and fall prey to cultural norms when a hand is extended.
*Read a report on the meeting at http://blogtown.portlandmercury.com/BlogtownPDX/archives/2013/02/14/big-march-planned-down town-today-cop-talks-crowd- control-philosophy
**Then known as POPSG
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.