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Mayor Shane Bemis commits to finding solutions after National tragedy, protests

PMG FILE PHOTO - Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis said he has been moved by the sobering and passionate issues that have been shared during peaceful marches.In the wake of a National tragedy, Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis has made a pledge to review how police officers use force within his community.

Wednesday, June 3, Bemis signed a National Mayor's Pledge to examine police policies, committing to share the findings and solicit feedback on how to ensure law enforcement safely and fairly serves community members of all backgrounds.

"The graphic video of the murder of George Floyd on a Minneapolis street at the hands of those who were entrusted to protect him has rocked us to our core," Bemis said. "Right now 328 million Americans just became witnesses to a murder."

Floyd was killed in Minneapolis late last month, spurring outrage and protests across the country toward the long series of African-American deaths at the hands of police. As the cascading series of angry protests over institutionalized racism was interspersed with criminal bouts of looting and vandalism in cities like Portland, Gresham community members gathered for peaceful marches and protests.

"To our residents whose lived experiences have sparked fear of law enforcement and who have been deeply impacted by white supremacy and institutional injustice — I'm sorry," Bemis said.

The mayor attended the first Gresham protest Sunday, May 31, which was organized by high schoolers from Gresham, Centennial and Reynolds.

"I was moved by the sobering and passionate issues that were shared," Bemis said. "I don't have all the answers, and my lived experiences disqualify me from attempting to answer these questions alone."

"I am wide open to the feedback we hear and reforms that are recommended," he added.

A larger march took place in downtown Gresham Wednesday evening, June 3, with many elected officials in attendance. The crowd chanted: "Black Lives Matter," "Say his name — George Floyd," "I can't breathe" and "No justice, no peace." Another march was organized Friday evening, June 5, that had community members marching through Troutdale.

While marchers called for justice and reform in downtown Gresham, the Metropolitan Mayors Consortium — Bemis is the chairman and founding member — announced it stands in solidarity with residents mourning Floyd's murder. The group, comprised of the 26 mayors helming regional cities, stated the death wasn't isolated, nor is any community immune to systemic and historic patterns of racial injustice.

The consortium reiterated that it backs peaceful protests.

"Gresham is one of the most diverse cities in Oregon and we can lead the way in building a better America marked with more justice, wider liberty, love for our neighbors and true belonging," Bemis said.

As investigations begin into Gresham Police Department's policies around use of force, Bemis is scheduling meetings with black community leaders. He said the goal is to have an honest and candid conversation about what needs to be done within the city.

"This will be the first conversation, but it most certainly won't be the last," Bemis said.

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