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Resident Edwin Nuñez claims racial bias from police officers and local citizens

PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Edward and Elizabeth Nunez say they have been startled by the level of discimination and racism he has faced since moving to Newberg four years ago.

In 2019, Edwin Nuñez felt his life was in danger. Driving on Highway 219 toward Newberg, a truck was following him aggressively and attempting to run him off the road. At one point, the driver pulled up on Nuñez's left side and pointed a gun at him.

Nuñez reached Newberg without incident, eventually calling 911 to report the menacing behavior. When two officers from the Newberg-Dundee Police Department arrived at his parked car, Nuñez claims they treated him as the threat and racially profiled him, rather than assisting with the incident he called about.

"When they got there, they began by telling me to 'calm down,'" Nuñez said. "Both officers had their hands on their guns when they approached me. The female officer began by searching the car's license plate in the database, while the other searched through the car with his flashlight and asked me if I had any weapons or anything to report."

Nuñez's wife, Elizabeth, arrived soon after and Nuñez noticed a significant difference in the officers' tone and approach. He claims the officers didn't take him seriously about the incident until his wife, who is white, arrived. Nuñez didn't complete a written police report because of his frustration surrounding the officers' alleged discriminatory behavior.

This was not an isolated incident, Nuñez said. He claims to have been pulled over at least seven times in Newberg and followed by police officers a handful of other times. Immigration police, he said, have stopped him three times to ask for proof of citizenship. Nuñez is Dominican-American and was born in the United States.

"Every time I'm in Newberg I go from point A to point B with no distraction and pray that I don't get stopped by a white cop," Nuñez said. "The other day I was leaving to go to work and a cop pulled out and started following me. I call out cops for following me. They are always scared of me because I look different, so they come out of the car with their hand on their gun. They come out of the car combative, not trying to diffuse the situation. Cops take a different approach with white people."

Nuñez's story comes on the heels of a national movement surrounding racial discrimination and police reform following the police killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd.

In response to those national events, NDPD condemned Floyd's killing and called it an "unlawful use of force," claiming that local police officers engage in bias training throughout the year, along with extensive background checks and psychological testing.

"NDPD has the belief that all of our residents need to feel safe," Interim Police Chief Jeff Kosmicki said in a statement in late May. "Everyone is equally valued in our community and by our police department. Many times, our contacts with our residents begin from a negative form of contact just by the nature of our business … and we recognize that.

"We hire good people, and we make them into great officers. If you aren't a good person, there is little that we can do with you, and we don't want you here representing NDPD. It's not that we are perfect, that's not realistic, but we strive for perfection."

Kosmicki met with Nuñez and his wife on June 26 to discuss Nuñez's concerns and experiences with the police department. Elizabeth Nuñez said the meeting was productive.

"You can only get so much done in one meeting, but reflecting back we did move forward," she said. "It's going to be a long process of listening to truly get to understanding and change. There's a lot of work ahead, but if the police and those in power are committed to keep working at this I believe we can keep moving forward."

'You don't engage white people here'

The 2010 census identifies Newberg's population as 86% white, 13.5% Hispanic/Latino and 0.8% black. Nuñez identifies as Hispanic but said he is often mistaken for being black due to his darker skin.

This comes up in a handful of other racist incidents Nuñez said he's encountered during his four years living in Newberg.

When he was working at Verizon, Nuñez said he would ride his bike to work every day. On several occasions, he said, cars would drive by him on Main Street and yell the N-word at him. He said a similar situation occurred when a car full of white men leaving Muchas Gracias restaurant on Portland Road saw Nuñez on his bike and yelled the same racial epithet before speeding off.

The job itself was no sanctuary from hate, either. Nuñez said customers would ask for white employees to avoid interacting with him, and when all the white employees were on vacation and it was just him in the store, some white customers would rather wait until those employees were back from vacation than get help from him.

"Whenever I need to go somewhere in Newberg, I literally just go in and out," Nuñez said. "I try not to talk to anyone. Engaging white people here they get scared, they get frazzled. You don't engage white people here."

Nuñez claims he's had the tires on his car slashed on multiple occasions at his home and in the parking lot of Fred Meyer. With multiple cars in the driveway of his home, his car has always been the only one targeted by these tire slashings, he said.

Elizabeth Nuñez is a doctoral student in GFU's department of clinical psychology. When he visits her on campus, Nuñez said people don't believe that they're married and treat him like he doesn't belong there.

Elizabeth said the varying incidents of racism and discrimination against her husband have changed her entire perspective on policing, race relations and living in Newberg.

"As a white, middle-class woman I had no idea how prevalent and pervasive racism is before we got married," Elizabeth said. "For the first time, my assumptions that the world is a reasonably good and safe place were challenged. I grew up believing the police had the power to keep people I cared about safe, and never even considered that the police might not believe me or someone I love.

"When Edwin and I got married and he moved to Oregon to be with me, it felt like my whole understanding of the world collapsed. I didn't know how to talk about what was happening because I wasn't experiencing racism directly, but someone I love deeply is continually at risk."

The Nuñezes moved to Newberg in 2016 so Elizabeth could pursue her education. Edwin Nuñez now works as a department supervisor at a store in another town, a job that he said is the first he's felt truly safe in since moving to Oregon.

Newberg's lack of diversity adds to the difficulty of changing attitudes and challenging prejudices, but the Nuñezes hope their story gives others the courage to speak out and inspire positive change.

The willingness of many white residents to show up and support an anti-racism demonstration on June 4 was a positive development, but Edwin Nuñez said he is hoping for police reform on the local level as well.

"We should train police to not come out of the car with their hand on their gun, ready to use, and to not be afraid when they interact with people like me," Nuñez said.

"In the Dominican Republic, police are adored more than the firefighters, paramedics and even the president because you can talk to those people. They can talk to you as humans and not every situation is going to involve them using their guns. They want to help diffuse the situation."

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