My View: Put Hardesty in charge of police bureau
Portland City Council took a step forward recently by passing a resolution condemning white supremacist and alt-right hate groups.
Advised by front-line community organizations, the policy includes developing training for all city staff on the history, impacts and ways of identifying white supremacy.
While Mayor Ted Wheeler has pushed forward on symbolic statements, the police continue to disproportionately arrest black and Native American Portlanders, as well as people experiencing homelessness and mental illness.
There needs to be a change, and it has become clear that the mayor is not the best person to lead the charge.
While the cozy relationship revealed a few weeks ago between the Portland Police Bureau and the alt-right came as a shock to some, others who've long advocated for police reform were not at all surprised.
Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said that the texts "simply confirm what many in the community have already known — there are members of the Portland police force who work in collusion with right-wing extremists."
In the wake of the #TextGate scandal, many advocates for police reform were buoyed when Wheeler heeded our call for an independent investigation into the matter and announced that he and Police Chief Danielle Outlaw would be hosting a "listening session" on Thursday evening, Feb. 21, at the Maranatha Church.
While we agree that such a process could prove cathartic for civil rights protesters who've been surveilled, detained, gassed, injured and arrested, we can't help but remain skeptical about it leading to substantive or lasting change in the police bureau's practices.
The "we hear you and are prepared to make change from within" response issued by Wheeler and Outlaw is a time-worn script rolled out for each episode of police misconduct, brutality and killings.
When we presented a petition to the City Council with more than 4,000 signatures on Oct. 3, 2018, to protest the shocking fact that 52 percent of arrests in 2017 were of houseless people, we were publicly invited by the mayor to work with him.
However, in a subsequent meeting with the mayor's staffers, we were told that there was no effort underway to reduce the number of arrests of houseless people. Every recommendation we suggested was rejected despite the mayor having stated that he agreed with much of what we had proposed.
If we as a community are going to eradicate white supremacy and ensure safety for all of our city's most vulnerable people — black, immigrant, other communities of color, Muslim, Jewish, LGBTQIA+, the houseless and people suffering from mental illness and addiction — the mayor and police chief must do more than host listening sessions and conduct anti-bias training. They must overhaul the police bureau and enforce a cultural shift.
After two years in office, Wheeler needs to admit he lacks the expertise and will to lead on police reform. He needs to acknowledge Commissioner Hardesty's expertise in this subject matter, cede control of the Police Bureau to her, and empower her to set the table for the next round of police contract negotiations. We believe that she can lead us as a community in innovating an effective, truly independent civilian oversight body for the Portland police (ideally with subpoena power).
We also believe she will work to ensure that those most affected by police bias are assigned positions on the Charter Review Commission.
Anti-hate ordinances and listening sessions are necessary but insufficient responses to the lack of accountability and trust between the Portland police and the public.
We stand with the DSA-Portland and Portland's Resistance in calling for the immediate transfer of the Police Bureau to Commissioner Hardesty. It's a good call for Mayor Wheeler and a good call for the city.
It's also the right thing to do.