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The city commissioner walks back remarks accusing Portland police of arson and being provocateurs.

PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty spoke at a rally on the steps of the Multnomah County Justice Center on Friday, July 17.Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty in recent days has been on the defensive about comments claiming without evidence that Portland police officers had set fires and employed provocateurs to cause violence during nightly protests — while asserting that no protesters had caused destruction or violence.

Even while walking back her claims, the longtime activist continued to accuse the Portland Police Bureau of spreading lies. She also questioned whether Mayor Ted Wheeler was progressive enough to lead Portland — while expressing her continued hope that Wheeler would assign her the bureau.

"I don't know if he has what we need at this time" to be mayor, she said. "I can tell you that I have what we need to fundamentally change how policing happens. In Portland, and would be fearless about changing it."

Hardesty's rift with Wheeler and her continued bid to lead the bureau are significant because many think her support or opposition could be decisive in the three council races that are going before voters later this year.

Hardesty "seems to be the most powerful voice in City Council right now," John Horvick of DHM Research, the prominent polling firm, told the Portland Tribune in June

Hardesty made her initial accusations against police on Wednesday, July 22, in two different settings. For example, she told Marie Claire that "I believe Portland Police (Bureau) is lying about the damage — or starting the fires themselves — so that they have justification for attacking community members."

She issued an apology later that day calling her claims "misinformation." On Thursday, July 23, during an hour talking with reporters, she sounded a note of contrition but continued to attack the bureau as untrustworthy, noting an article in The Oregonian indicating that the bureau had exaggerated the protests' negative impact on downtown businesses.

In the July 23 press conference, even as she again described her regret, Hardesty seemed to suggest that a clash at a peaceful protest was timed intentionally. Specifically, she explained that she's been upset with the bureau since police clashed with protesters not long after she held a peaceful vigil on Friday, July 17, indicating that she believed the timing was not an accident.

Her anger was sparked by "knowing that people who work for me that I love could have been killed because the police action downtown that happened 10 minutes after I left, that was not by accident."

In another anecdote, when asked her thoughts on Police Chief Chuck Lovell, Hardesty said she thought he was too embedded in police culture, and described a conversation with him that referenced police reports that protesters had caused damaged downtown — reports that Hardesty mentioned with skepticism.

"Great example: my very first conversation with (Lovell) when he was trying to get me to be one of the people that were doing a public statement against protesters, who may or may not be causing damage downtown," she said.

If Hardesty was hoping to make peace with Wheeler over the weekend, it's not clear that will happen. Later on Thursday he sent her a letter calling her accusations of city employees "shocking" and that "You released a later statement addressing the quote but I am not clear whether you were withdrawing your claim. Absent that clarity, as Mayor and as Police Commissioner, it is my obligation to respond."

He said that as head of the Portland Fire Bureau, she should confirm that she has directed an investigation be opened into any arson suspicions. "Additionally, as they are required to do, the Police Bureau has begun the internal work to open an investigation into the crimes you allege. They have also reached out to state agencies to discuss the most appropriate way to proceed in this circumstance, especially given that state staff may also be implicated by your claim. Should they proceed, those processes will necessarily include you."

Wheeler closed by saying, "At this volatile moment, when the federal government is literally occupying our city and putting our residents at risk, our community expects and deserves that its leaders will work together."


Here are additional excerpts from the July 23 press conference with Hardesty, edited for clarity and brevity:

How do we get the streets back?

Well, first, we have to get the federal goon squad out of here. And then if I were a police commissioner, I would actually not have the police responding in riot gear at a protest, because all that does is actually increase tensions. It doesn't reduce tensions.

Do you feel that what you said about protesters not setting fires was right?

Have protesters set fires? Yes. But what I know about protests or setting fires is that other places testers have put them out. I am a child of the civil rights movement. And I have been evaluating Portland police reports and audits and activities for 30 years. And what I know is that (in history) the police have sent in undercover people to create the balance that leads to over-policing.

What caused your emotions to, as you say, to get the best of you? And then moving forward, have you spoken to the chief, have you spoken to police union President Daryl Turner?

Yes, that process has started. I reached out to Chief Lovell earlier today and asked him to call me back. And I've known Daryl Turner for a long time, I'm gonna have to sleep on whether or not I think he deserves a phone call, honestly, because, again, the hyperbole that I've seen come from him, mine wasn't even close to his. I'm sure that the right thing to do would be to call him and I will — I'm just not ready to do it now. And I'll probably take the weekend and give him a call on Monday, assuming that things go well this weekend.

Let me just say that as the first African-American woman on the City Council, as someone who has had to … just kind of put my own personal feelings aside because I have a job to do, there's been a lot coming at me non-stop. ... I knew yesterday, the longer the day went, the more I could feel the tension coming up. And it started Saturday knowing that people who work for me that I love could have been killed because the police action downtown that happened 10 minutes after I left, that was not by accident. And so carrying that, in addition to everything else is what led to that. But I'm an adult, and when I'm wrong, I will say I'm wrong. And when an apology is needed, I will give one.

If you had the police bureau, what would you do differently?

if I had the police bureau I would immediately — and I did tell the mayor this last Saturday when we spoke — if I had the police bureau I'd give an immediate order to say ... that they would answer 911 calls, and they would not show up at protests with full protective gear. Because what we know is that when police show up in riot gear, it actually enhances tension and it doesn't de-escalate tension.

The second thing I would do is actually, fundamentally work with them to ensure that they are not collaborating at all with a federal forces whatsoever.

Over the next several months, I would actually engage (in) re-envisioning what community safety looks like. Because what I know is that the current system we have does not work. It doesn't work for police, and it certainly doesn't work for community. And so I have a lot of ideas about how I would change how policing would happen if I had the police bureau. And if I don't have the police bureau, I'm still going to work on making those changes.

How would you communicate your case to be made police commissioner in light of the comments about suspicions about police actually setting the fires? Now you want to become their boss: What do you say about your ability to lead that department? What's the message you would send to the public?

I have more experience with Portland police than all my City Council colleagues combined. I was part of the group that brought the Department of Justice to town to investigate police killings of black and brown people.

I've read every audit that has ever come out around Portland police. I have read ... all their stop data … I have a long history of analyzing whether or not Portland Police Bureau is doing what they say they are doing. … And so there's no one with more with more grounding in how police communicate, what they say. ... I can't imagine anyone else being better. Now, it's totally up to the mayor to decide whether or not he wants to give me the bureau. Clearly, I have a lot of community support for him to do that. And, you know, my statement yesterday should not undo 30 years of work in this community around trying to reform the police.

Are you actually discussing this with the mayor still? Or is it more that you're making your case to the public now?

The mayor and I have not talked since I made that case. I've reached out to him; he was mad, he wouldn't talk to me. I'm going to reach out to him again this weekend and see if he and I can have a one-on-one. I think the bottom line is, whether I have the Police Bureau or not, I'm going to continue to do the work that I need to do to reform Portland police ... I don't need the police bureau in my portfolio to do it. But I think it would make a lot of sense because I have all the other first responder bureaus and because all the first responder Bureaus work together anyway, it's just a logical transition that should take Place.

You had earlier endorsed Mayor Wheeler for his re-election. Now that you and he are not currently speaking, are you reconsidering that endorsement? Or do you still endorse his re-election?

The mayor and I will be talking again — you know, he can't stay mad at me forever. He still needs three votes to do anything. And so I he and I will have a conversation. You know, he won't be mad for long and he's a decent man. So we will come to some kind of agreement. I'm not ready to say whether or not I will continue to endorse him. He has my endorsement. I haven't taken it back. And I haven't made a decision about whether or not he will continue to have it moving forward in September.

Can you speak a bit about the ballot measure proposal for the new independent community police review? Do you know if you have the other two votes needed to refer the proposal to the November ballot? My second question is: If you can address concerns that this proposal may be moving too fast without a more all-encompassing public input process.

Let me take the last question first. Is it moving too fast? After 30 years of community requests for a truly independent police oversight board? I would say no ... we need a truly independent police oversight board with subpoena power with the ability to compel testimony, with a budget so that they can investigate misconduct complaints. And that is exactly what I'm moving to the ballot. What I'm moving is the framework to the charter … we will have 18 months to put the full oversight board in place. This is absolutely not rushed. I mean, 30 years is a long time to be asking for the exact same reform. .... And I'm not surprised that the auditor doesn't like it. I'm not surprised that the police doesn't like it.

Let me say that all of my colleagues have been excited about the potential for this ballot measure. ...I never know how they're going to vote. But let's just say that this proposal has been warmly received in every office at City Hal

Do you think Ted Wheeler is equipped to navigate this moment in Portland's history? And is he progressive enough for today's Portland?

Both of those are very good questions. And what I would say is, as we look around the country, what we've noticed is that many cities have shifted to (placing) African Americans in charge of their police force, because of this moment in time that we're in. That was not my thought. When I asked for the police bureau, it was just that I was angry that people I loved and cared about could have been injured or killed unnecessarily at the hands of people who are supposed to protect and serve.

What I think is that sometimes the mayor takes advice from people that are not police, but unfortunately, I think he takes a lot of advice from ... from Portland police. You know, he is who he is. He is a privileged white man who grew up among wealth and privilege. And so I don't know if he has what we need at this time. I can tell you that I have what we need to fundamentally change how policing happens in Portland, and would be fearless about changing it. So I'll just leave it there.

What is your message to protesters who have continued to gather outside the federal courthouse in Justice Center?

My message to them is I am with them. We have a right to protest that is built into our Constitution. I can't be with them every night. But I'm going to be there at least once a week. Because it is important that we ... show the world that Portland is not going to be intimidated into silence. We're not going to allow an invasion to silence us and have us not exercise our constitutional rights.

I wanted to ask you if you had seen and if you had a reaction to an op/ed in the Washington Post by the Portland branch president of the NAACP, Reverend ED Mondaine. ... The headline is Portland's protests were supposed to be about Black lives. Now, they're white spectacle. And also, are they really furthering the cause of justice, or is there is this another example of white, co-optation? And saying the protests are distracting attention from what should be our central concern: The Black Lives Matter movement.

I love Rev. Mondaine, but I would respectfully disagree with him. I mean, we are still in a Black Lives Matters moment. ... But what (Trump) did is a shot to anyone who believes in democracy and fairness and justice and our community.

If you were police commissioner, what would you change immediately? And, I also caught some of your statements about Chief Lovell, and I wondered whether you support him or not.

I'll start with I said, when he was promoted to chief, I called him immediately, told him he had my 100% support, and I would do what I could to support him. Then he said, does that mean money? I said no, I am still going to cut your budget.

So I do support him. But the more I talked to him, I learned just how deeply embedded in the culture of Portland Police Bureau, this very, very narrow mindset. ... And so the more time I've spent with him since he's been chief, and the less I find common ground with him. I'm gonna keep trying to find common ground. But what I realized is that there's something embedded in the culture there that absolutely refuses to contemplate police ever doing anything wrong.

What you would immediately change to affect the culture?

We have allowed the police to control the narrative for way, way, way too long. And the police are accustomed to telling us who the criminals are, who's committing crime and how much money they need to solve it.

I would study immediately recruiting new officers from high schools, supporting them as they went through community college, creating internship programs. I would totally redesign the training program so that no training happens other than munitions training that is in partner with a community member. The reason why we have police officers who think they are us-vs.-them is because that's the way we train them. And we have to retrain them so that they will be more community focused.


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