Protesters pressure Hillsboro officials to enact police reforms
As she watched several nights of civil unrest unfold in Portland, across the state and around the world against police brutality and systematic racism, Kahneeta Atkin was surprised a protest hadn't yet been organized in Hillsboro, Oregon's fifth-largest, and one of its most racially diverse, cities.
On Monday, June 1, Atkin took action. She created an event on Facebook and scheduled a protest for Friday.
Atkin, who said she had never organized a protest before, was shocked to see that by Friday afternoon, hours before the event at Hillsboro's Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza, nearly 200 people said they planned to attend and a few hundred more said they were interested.
At its height, Friday's protest drew about 400 people, undeterred by periodic rain.
Atkin, a white mother of five, said she organized the event to make a difference for her kids. Atkin's children have a Latino father.
"I have mixed-race kids and I don't want them to have to grow up in a world where they have to fear for their safety or wonder if they're going to be mistaken for somebody else on their way somewhere," Atkin said in an interview. "I don't want what happened to George Floyd to happen to them or any other child or any other person of color. The more awareness we bring to it, the better chance there is for change."
Protests have errupted around the world in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a black man killed May 25 by a white Minneapolis police officer, who kneeled on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes
The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been arrested on murder and manslaughter charges. Floyd had been detained after allegedly giving a counterfeit $20 bill to a cashier. An independent autopsy found Floyd died of asphyxiation caused by pressure on his back and neck. An official autopsy concluded he suffered cardiac arrest induced by being restrained and sustained pressure applied to his neck.
Three other officers involved in Floyd's death have also been arrested and charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
Atkin said her boyfriend and children's father, Eduardo Martinez, has experienced "every form of racism" in his life. She worries about what kind of prejudices her 5-year-old son will face as he enters kindergarten soon.
Using a megaphone, Atkin started the protest by asking for eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence in honor of Floyd — the amount of time Chauvin reportedly kneeled on Floyd's neck.
For more than two and a half hours, speakers at Friday's protest demanded police and criminal justice reforms, occasionally starting "black lives matter" chants. They called on local elected leaders to swiftly enact policies to better protect people of color from discrimination.
Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway and city councilors Beach Pace and Olivia Alcaire attended the demonstration, and spoke briefly to the crowd.
"I have felt so many things over the past two weeks," Alcaire said. "Change needs to happen; political change for fairness and equity."
Callaway told the crowd, "I am here to listen, and then I'm here to take what you say and begin to do the hard work for putting words into action. Thank you for your actions tonight because they speak louder than words."
While people were still clapping, after Callaway's comments, a protester asked if he will ban the use of tear gas by the Hillsboro Police Department.
Police in Portland have been using tear gas to disrupt protesters that have at times thrown objects at officers and vandalized businesses and public buildings. The night of the Hillsboro protest, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced a 30-day moratorium on the use of tear gas after police were criticized for throwing tear gas at protesters indiscriminately.
"We'll talk about it and we'll figure out a way to make things right," Alcaire said in response to the protester.
After the protester continued to pressure the city officials on the issue, Alcaire said, "The three of us can't just do it right here."
"You can promise that you absolutely are against the use of tear gas," said the protester.
"I'm against the use of that," Alcaire said. "That goes against constitutional rights."
"And you, Mayor?" the protester asked.
Callaway did not state a position, saying, "I'm here to listen."
Other protesters later chided Callaway for not stating a position.
Toward the end of the protest, a protester asked all elected officials present to join him in front of the crowd. Alcaire, City Councilor Kyle Allen and Hillsboro school board member Jaci Spross joined.
When it was apparent that Callaway was no longer at the protest, the protester criticized him for not staying longer before handing the megaphone to Alcaire.
"When we have our council meetings, we really need to see and hear from you," Alcaire said. "You want to engage with us, we want to talk with you. I am serious. We have to talk and give space so that we can make real change."
Pressure has been mounting on elected officials in cities across the country to enact police reforms such as banning chokeholds, mandating officers to intervene if they observe another officer inappropriately using force and implementing more extensive reporting requirements for using and threatening to use force.
In an interview, Allen said he supports the implementation of policies included in "#8Can'tWait," an initiative started by the advocacy group Campaign Zero to implement research-based police reforms.
"Our community is in pain," Allen said. "As elected officials, we need to be conduits for the people in Hillsboro that need change. I can promise that I'm going to do everything I can, not just through words, but through actions to make that happen."
Speakers at the protest were mostly students of color. They described their experiences with racial bias growing up in the largely white community and their feelings of fear and distrust toward the police.
"Racism is alive and well in this community," one speaker said.
Earlier that day, a Washington County Sheriff's deputy, Rian Alden, was indicted on first-degree misconduct charges for a 2018 incident in which Alden used force on an arrestee during booking. Alden had been placed on administrative leave earlier in the week after a resident notified the Washington County Sheriff's Office of an email containing multiple racist epithets Alden allegedly sent four years before becoming a deputy.
Many speakers of color discussed the importance of the white community to hold itself accountable for the systems of racial oppression that exist and urge policymakers to enact change now.
Paris Jenkins, a senior at the University of Oregon, told the crowd she had never felt so supported by her community growing up as a black woman in Hillsboro.
"I'm glad you guys are here today to protest with us," Jenkins said. "We see your signs and we are glad you are not staying silent and complicit to institutionalized racism. Change starts with each of you analyzing and reflecting on your own lives. How do you silence the voices around you? And what are you doing to uplift black voices?"
Jenkins said she felt "very isolated and alone" growing up.
"Oftentimes when learning about race, learning about black history, my teachers would always expect me to be the voice of the entire black community," Jenkins said. "I felt this pressure and responsibility to educate other people that are white on my experience to help humanize black people in their eyes."
She said she hopes the engagement she saw at the protest will continue to build and that it won't stop until racist systems are eliminated and people no longer fear for their safety because of their race.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with more information on George Floyd's death May 25, as well as to correct the number of former Minneapolis police officers who have been arrested in connection with Floyd's death. Four officers, including Derek Chauvin, were fired from the police department and have been criminally charged.
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