Vote set in racially charged speech case
The City Council is poised to vote on two racially charged matters this week.
One is the proposed settlement with a Portland police sergeant who was fired after making offensive comments during a roll call. The Portland Police Association filed a grievance on behalf of Sgt. Greg Lewis, setting up the issue to be settled in arbitration. The City Attorney's Office recommended settling with Lewis to avoid losing the case and having him reinstated.
The council first heard the matter last week. At that time, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty opposed the settlement, preventing the unanimous vote necessary to approve it then. The new vote is set for Wednesday, Feb. 6.
During the hearing, Hardesty quoted Lewis as saying, "If you run into a drunk on the street who's white, in a suit, let him go, because he'll probably sue you. If he's a Latino, call CHIERS (the acronym for a sobering station in downtown Portland). "'If he's black, shoot him.'"
Hardesty later issued a statement saying she was paraphrasing Lewis' remarks. Police records released after the hearing show a number of officers who heard the remarks remembered them differently, In one case, an officer said they were discussing a comment in the media that police only kill black people. "Officers began talking amongst themselves about this statement and then I heard Sgt. Lewis state, "well, let's just go out and kill all the black people,'" the officer said.
Lewis was fired on Feb. 2, 2018. The city has agreed to rescind Lewis's termination and impose a 15-day suspension without pay instead. Under the deal, Lewis' retirement will be effective as of Dec. 3, 2018, and he will not eligible to work for the city or the Police Bureau in the future.
Bureau leaders also agreed to pay him $100,020.53 — essentially his gross back pay from the day he was fired through the date of his effective retirement — minus what he would have earned during a three-week unpaid suspension.
"These two options show that we are working within a broken system. We sit on the cusp of Black History Month, a time meant to celebrate our diverse community, and yet we are buying off individuals who believe that there is a separate justice system for people who look like them and everyone else," Hardesty said in her statement.
The other matter is a resolution condemning white supremacist and alt-right hate groups. It was introduced by Mayor Ted Wheeler and the council in response to far-right groups that have staged sporadic protests in Portland since Donald Trump was elected president, sparking counter-protests and occasional clashes with police trying to keep them apart.
That vote is scheduled for Thursday.
The resolution acknowledges a history of "racist governing" in Oregon and Portland, including "a history of bias in government services, including policing, all of which have led to gentrification and the decimation of historically black neighborhoods."
The resolution states that "the City of Portland will not tolerate hate in any form and reaffirms its commitment to continue, in collaboration with all Portlanders, pursuing policies and directing bureaus in the next year and beyond to ensure civil and human rights to all individuals."