Protests that began three long months ago in downtown Portland over the loss of human life have now come full circle and themselves resulted in the loss of a man's life on Saturday.
Portlanders are exhausted by the destruction, the violence, the injuries and now a fatality. For more than 90 days, the city has failed epically in trying to resolve this question: How do you support the First Amendment right of free speech while shutting down the arsonists, the looters and the vandals who have run amok?
For the city of Portland and — and specifically Mayor Ted Wheeler and the Portland Police Bureau he oversees — the obvious answer has been: They do not know.
What has been needed is someone to lead, to bring together the resources of several agencies, and to get everyone marching in the same direction.
On Sunday, Aug. 30, Gov. Kate Brown stepped up.
Will her unified law enforcement plan work (See Page A1)? Unknown. Will it work better than what we've tried for the past months? Assuredly. But then again, almost anything would.
Brown's intervention came after the shooting death Saturday of a protester. Portland once again finds itself thrust into the center of a fiery national debate. It's being portrayed as a city out of control, as a battle ground between right-wing militias and left-wing anarchists. People who live here know differently — Portland aims to be a peaceful place, a gentle city and one that works hard to overcome a shameful history of institutional racism.
Brown's plan — announced, oddly enough, at 6 p.m. on a Sunday, when most Portlanders could be assured of not noticing — brings together several agencies under one roof:
For Multnomah County, District Attorney Mike Schmidt's Office will prosecute serious criminal offenses, including arson and physical violence, while the Sheriff's Office will work with partners to hold people booked for violent behavior, and to ensure that there is adequate jail space to hold them.
The Oregon State Police will detail personnel and resources to Portland to free up the Portland Police Bureau's investigative capabilities to arrest and charge people engaged in violence. State Police troopers will do so, it should be noted, while wearing body cameras. Portland Police do not employ body cameras.
Nearby Clackamas and Washington counties have been asked to provide sheriff's deputies. The sheriff's offices and Gresham Police have been asked to support Portland Police with personnel and resources. Wheeler will seek financial resources to reimburse these jurisdictions for their support.
The Oregon State Police will provide more than two dozen body cameras and associated evidence management to Portland Police.
And federally, the U.S. Attorney for the district of Portland, Billy Williams, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation will commit additional resources for investigation of criminal activity.
Brown's oddly timed launch didn't go without a few hitches. The sheriff's departments of Washington and Clackamas counties on Monday opted out of the plan, saying they hadn't heard about any of it until Sunday. The Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police and Oregon State Sheriff's Association both opted out.
Bad communication can foil more good projects than almost anything else. We wish this hadn't been rushed.
But we also hope the state's law enforcement officials see the wisdom of Brown's plan. What's good — and bad — for Portland reflects the same on our suburbs. Disquiet here hurts Portland but it hurts the surrounding communities, and the entire state, as well. Brown's plan didn't call for throwing unconditional resources at Portland; it called for supporting Portland.
That's in the best interests of every law enforcement official in the state.
State Rep. David Brock Smith, whose district includes portions of Curry, Coos, Douglas and Josephine counties, also threw fuel on the fire with an inaccurate and incendiary press release Monday designed to stir up strong emotions. We would point out how unhelpful that is, but being helpful wasn't Smith's goal. Making sure emotions continue to boil over and scoring political points against Democrats was.
Wheeler and Schmidt held a press conference five hours earlier on Sunday and gave not one hint about this grand unified theory of public safety. Maybe they're good poker players or maybe they hadn't been informed about it at that time. At the press event, Wheeler said he was calling on assistance from several other agencies, as an "all-hands-on-deck moment."
Five hours later, those hands were called. It's just not the deck of Wheeler's ship.
We have known for some weeks now that Wheeler alone couldn't bring together the kind of consortium this crisis requires. Last week, he admitted it himself, saying he's tried to go it alone.
At almost every press event, he has stood alone. City Councilor Jo Ann Hardesty has been crossing swords with him over police issues. Councilors Amanda Fritz and Chloe Eudaly have been timid and silent. Multnomah County commissioners haven't stood with him. Neither have the governor and the Oregon speaker of the House, both Portlanders. A very large proportion of the 90 members of the Legislature have districts that touch Portland, and they haven't stood with him.
Wheeler is correct in saying he's tried to go it alone, and he's correct in saying that approach failed. But he also outlined in an interview with a member of the Portland Tribune editorial board last week the help he needed from the rest of the justice system: Arrest, prosecution, booking and jail for people who commit criminal acts. It appears that Gov. Brown is putting together the right coalition to make that happen.
As Brown, Wheeler and Schmidt all said on Sunday, in one forum or another, stopping the violence shouldn't come at the expense of free speech. Systemic racism is a terrible, entrenched problem in Oregon (and the nation) and its ongoing evils can be felt in almost every fabric of our society. People are right to take to the streets and to say that Black lives matter.
The question here is how to protect the First Amendment rights and incarcerate the arsonist. To support voices and suppress violence.
The Tribune has been calling for a coordinated effort for weeks now. We take no credit in this plan, but applaud the effort to try something other than the tried-and-failed.
Perhaps only Brown has the power to bring these agencies together. It could be argued — and rightly so — that she should have done it in late June or early July. But late or not, let's welcome the fact that she got here at all.
This plan must be made to work. It's the clearest sign we've seen yet of everyone rowing in the same direction.
We stand ready to support this plan if it brings an end to the violence without stomping on the rights of citizens to speak their minds.
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