Our opinion: Police stress is real; could be catalyst for real change
In the Portland Tribune edition of June 16, we wrote about "pandemic silver linings" — those elements of life that got better during this crisis, such as bypassing an entire flu season and more outdoor dining.
Last week, approximately 50 members of the Portland Police Bureau's Rapid Response Team stepped down, en masse, from that unit (see story, Page A1). The first reason cited was because one of their officers was indicted for assault and others are under investigation. Then Acting Police Chief Chris Davis said the real reason was 14 months of incredible stress, following all of Portland's now world-famous nightly protests.
If Portlanders, Oregonians and people around the globe found creativity in a pandemic, the Tribune has to speculate: Could this mass disbanding of the Rapid Response Team lead to creative solutions for the stress that has riven portions of the community and the Portland Police Bureau?
Members of the police riot-response unit are feeling unprecedented stress? We believe it. As Davis said, they faced week after week of Molotov cocktails, fireworks, explosives, rocks and more being thrown at them. They had city, county and state lawmakers question their methods. They had media watching them like hawks. Of course that was stressful.
African Americans and other residents of color have felt that stress for decades — feeling that police have not been on their side. And let us note: People of color also have felt that city, county and state lawmakers, and media, have not been on their side, either. Fair's fair. Systemic racism is a reality of nation; one we are only now, painfully, lurchingly, addressing as a city, a state and a nation.
So we have police feeling stress, while people of color feel stress. Something has to change.
How about a whole new way of doing business?
The Tribune postulated this theory last year and we repeat it today: True, systemic changes in policing will only come, and remain strong, if the rank-and-file officers, the police union, and police command leadership are all on board.
Feeling stressed about the way things are going?
Change the way things are going.
If the Portland Police Association, the union, were to join forces with the Black Lives Matter advocates, it would make international news. Imagine if officers and advocates broke bread together to say, "You're stressed, we're stressed, we recognize your trauma and you recognize ours. Now let's find a new dynamic."
Can you imagine the impact of that?
The estimated 50 police officers voted unanimously to drop out of that team after a grand jury indicted Officer Corey Budworth on one count of fourth-degree assault. In a widely distributed video from one of last year's protests, Budworth is seen chasing a woman, who either is pushed or falls. While she's sitting on the ground, Budworth holds his baton in both hands and smacks her in the head, then walks off.
Longtime union leader Daryl Turner allegedly called that indictment a "witch hunt." That's the old way of thinking. Here's another: Assault is assault, and one's status as a police officer should have no bearing on that. That should be something everyone agrees on.
Let's all agree that police and Black Lives Matter advocates are telling the truth: That everyone is stressed out. Let's also agree that the way that some police have interacted with people of color for decades no longer is tolerable.
It's time for both sides to come together and use this stressful time to find a better way of functioning.
Because if we don't use the stress to find that better way, the stress is definitely going to keep mounting.
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