It has been a simple request: I want to feel safe in my neighborhood, downtown, in my car, at the grocery store, in my backyard, and in my house. And if I don't feel safe for some reason, I want the people I call to address that danger to not also be a danger to me because my skin is darker than theirs or because I am not wearing a police uniform.
Doesn't sound like too much to ask.
The reality for every Black man I know is a story of outright, uncalled for, violence, threat of violence, or intentional harassment by police officers. The underlying message from those officers is an effort to show control, dominance or intimidation.
I am pulled over just about every year for "questionable reasons" (e.g. a white light in my taillight in the middle of a sunny day). I have been stopped in front of my house and asked if I'm lost while driving slowly through my now gentrified neighborhood. An officer pulled out his gun on me when I was a passenger in a marked Channel 8 (KGW) news van; when he asked for the registration and I told him I had to get it from glove compartment below my chair. The photographer still tells me each time I see him that he relives that incident. The officer with the gun was called "new and nervous" when I complained to his chief. I pointed out "Nervous could have killed me."
The reality is that unless it is witnessed by someone outside the immediate family it is dismissed as an over-reaction or the result of some legitimate transgression. Or it is cast as an example of an errant "rotten apple" in an otherwise fair system.
Except now there is visual evidence. Lots of visual evidence of outrageous attacks. They show very much 'in control" officers with their colleagues assisting or just standing around as though this was "just fine … part of our team."
It is a culture within the Blue Line and one in the general community that fosters that culture from afar.
A friend was part of a citizen police training group that went through Oregon's state police academy (the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training). They were shown what it was like to go through initial police training. They walked through the doors and were handed belts with gear and a weapon. The first message was: Control. The next message was: Intimidation. The base message was violence. Preparing for battle.
That is not surprising. Our myths, our entertainment media, glorify violence. The expectation is that "real solutions" are either developed through violence or the threat of violence. Police are portrayed as exceptional and unusual when they are problem-solvers using conflict resolution, psychology or community knowledge. Adolescents and many adult police recruits want to become police to "catch the bad guys." Thinking that is the daily adrenaline rush of being on the force. It also sets them up to try to find the "bad guys" and to suspect everyone is their next "catch."
But the reality of the community's need is more mundane. It is not a daily dress up in military hardware like we've recently seen in the streets of Portland and in other cities. It is more likely an encounter with a domestic violence situation (often dangerous by itself) or struggling with mental illness/drug addiction in crisis. It is, as my friend, Mayor and former Portland Police Chief Tom Potter points out, not a role of law enforcer but, instead, peace officer.
We need trained people who can and will walk into a dangerous situation knowing how to deal with weapons of others and their own weapons. Yet we also need to recognize that the attention and money given to weapons and a sense of militarism has created a system that encourages an occupying army mentality with enemy labels assigned to the community, wartime "rules of engagement" with people who should be regarded as neighbors.
We are at a pivotal time. Proposals to rethink the roles and structure of policing to bring a basic fairness to the system are long overdue.
We need a recognition that calling yourself a peace officer, as an Ashland officer recently said, "Doesn't change the way people see you, it changes the way you see other people."
How officers and the justice system are held accountable must be reset. Past promises that the system and those doing the work will police themselves failed miserably. Delays, deception and deaths were the very visible result.
We no longer ASK to feel safe. We DEMAND that we feel safe in our country, in our state, in our city and in our neighborhoods.
This is not a negotiation.
Sen. Lew Frederick serves District 22 in the Oregon Legislation, which includes portions of North Portland. He co-chairs the Joint Interim Committee On Ways and Means Subcommittee On Education, and serves on the Joint Emergency Board and committees on Wildfire Reduction and Recovery, Transportation, Natural Resources and the Interstate 5 Bridge. A former journalist, he was appointed to the Oregon House in 2009 and elected to the Senate in 2016.
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