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Guest opinion: 'Most Americans know little about living in a police state or a zero-police state - a place where police have been rendered useless.'

PMG FILE PHOTO - New citizens read the Oath of Allegiance during a nationalization ceremony in 2017.Buried under the cop-hating graffiti smeared from one end of the Mark Hatfield U.S. Courthouse to the other is this engraved quote from Thomas Jefferson: "The Boisterous Sea of Liberty is Never Without a Wave."

The boisterous sea of liberty in Portland has turned into a roiling, lawless demonstration where free speech has been replaced with vandalism.

What an insulting welcome to the new Americans who take their oaths of citizenship in this building, next door to the beleaguered Justice Center.

Two years ago, I sat in Administrative Law Judge Paul Papak's courtroom on the 16th Floor of the U. S. courthouse as he administered the oath of citizenship to 138 citizens in two ceremonies.

Some of these new Americans came from countries that regularly make the news for daily violence and dire poverty: Syria, Somalia, Mexico, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Guatemala, Uganda, Zimbabwe.

Recent news out of Somalia: Suicide car bombs and roadside bombs.

From Pakistan: A 7-year-old maid beat to death by the family that employed her. It's illegal to employ anyone under 15 in Pakistan, but the law is widely ignored.

From India: Angry mobs have taken the law into their own hands to deliver "justice" on medical staff who fail to save lives.

From Mexico: A half dozen cities in Mexico often land on lists of the most dangerous places in the world. Defund police? What police?

In Papak's courtroom, the man sitting next to me was from Pakistan. "My wife has waited seven years for this day," he told me. "Maybe next year I can be a citizen."

Most Americans know little about living in a police state or a zero-police state — a place where police have been rendered useless. We have the American privilege of police protection, of calling the cops if we think we're in danger.

If we end up unjustifiably hurt by those who are paid to protect, we have options. We can contact the media. We can approach our elected representatives and ask them for legislation. We can take to the streets. We can sue — and maybe even win a substantial award.

What's instructive is how I ended up in Judge Papak's courtroom observing those naturalization ceremonies.

For several years, I've been attending various public hearings on police oversight in Portland. There are layers of police oversight in Portland, including private groups like Portland Copwatch and public entities — the Citizen Review Committee, the Community Oversight Advisory Board (COAB) and its later iteration, the Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing (PCCEP).

These last two groups came out of a settlement agreement between the city of Portland and the U.S. Department of Justice regarding police use of force against the mentally ill.

At one of the periodic settlement conferences, U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Simon mentioned that the naturalization ceremonies were held upstairs. If we had never been to one, he recommended we go. His suggestion came at the end of a public hearing in which one after another person weighed in about Portland police, often negatively.

The naturalization ceremony was such a contrast. Everybody waving small American flags, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, singing the national anthem and America the Beautiful.

Papak welcomed them to American citizenship and offered advice. "We are a government of the people. We help create the law … Seek out the good, shun the bad… Be useful, obey the law, speak out against intolerance. Use your minds, not your fists."

It's good advice, too, for protesters who have tagged a public building as if marking their personal territory.

Pamela Fitzsimmons, a former newspaper reporter and editor, is a Portland resident.

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