Clackamas County officials speak up about racial injustice
Clackamas County officials are speaking up after protests in communities throughout the county and metro area have brought attention to police violence and the death of George Floyd.
Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police 10 days ago has sparked mass demonstrations in cities across the United States. Portland has seen widespread protests the last several nights, and activists in Happy Valley, West Linn and Lake Oswego have taken to the streets to make their voices heard within their own communities.
On Thursday, May 28, — three days after Floyd's death — Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts issued a joint statement with heads of several metro area law enforcement agencies including Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese, Washington County Sheriff Pat Garret and Portland Police Chief Jami Resch.
"We stand together as law enforcement professionals in the Portland metropolitan area to condemn the tactics and actions demonstrated in Minneapolis," the statement said. "It is our job to protect life and increase public safety within our communities. The incident in Minneapolis does not reflect our value of the sanctity of life or code of ethics we have sworn to uphold."
Roberts posted the statement to his personal Twitter account the following day, saying that his heart goes out to Floyd's family.
"Incidents like these dramatically erode our efforts to partner with the communities we serve, including communities of color," Roberts tweeted.
On Sunday, May 31, Lake Oswego activist group Respond to Racism held a vigil for George Floyd attended by a few dozen people. Demonstrators, including well-respected community leaders such as Willie Poinsette, stood on the corner of A Avenue and State Street Sunday evening holding signs in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and calling for justice in Floyd's murder.
The next day around 50 West Linn High School students held a similar demonstration at the 10th street on-ramp to I-205. Students have returned to protest each day since.
West Linn's own police department has been under intense scrutiny in recent months over the unlawful and racially-motivated arrest of a black man from Portland in 2017.
Thousands of people marched to Happy Valley City Hall on June 3, and other peaceful actions are taking place in Oregon City and Gladstone.
Clackamas County's Board of Commissioners on Thursday, June 4, held their first regular business meeting since Floyd's death and demonstrations began. Commissioners took the first 20 minutes of their meeting to discuss the events transpiring within the county, around the metro area and across the country.
"African Americans and other minorities should never have to live in fear simply because of the color of their skin," said County Chair Jim Bernard. "Clackamas County has had its own issues with racial injustice in the past and recently. Demonstrations are starting to take place here in our county so that our residents' voices can be heard. I wholeheartedly support their freedom of speech and assembly."
Bernard went on to encourage those watching the meeting, which was streamed on Zoom, to read the open letter to the Portland metro community published by the Coalition of Communities of Color . He also thanked Roberts for signing onto the letter issued by metro area law enforcement agencies condemning Floyd's murder.
"We at the county need to work in partnership with law enforcement to eliminate racial injustice. That work starts within us all," Bernard said. "Each individual has to do the difficult work of examining their own biases, surfacing them and then deconstructing them."
Commissioner Ken Humberston echoed Bernard's comments, saying that he aims to work to make Clackamas County a welcoming place for all citizens.
Commissioner Sonya Fischer said that as a local government, Clackamas County is on the right path, but work remains to create a truly inclusive and diverse community that works on behalf of everyone, and that begins with dialogue.
"We as elected officials, what I really want to ask each and every one of you is to… dive in the uncomfortable conversations and now be afraid of what we hear so that we can best be equipped to be the leaders our community is demanding of us," she said. "We are facilitators. We are leaders, and we really need to listen, deeply."
Commissioner Paul Savas took the opportunity to point out that as the county's governing body, there are certain actions the board makes that force people of color out of their communities due to rising costs of living. He believes that the board has a responsibility to think about those people when they make decisions and act in their best interest.
"Government should always be a part of the solution," Savas said. "We should recognize that we need to either leave these communities alone or give them what they actually need, and not tell them what we think is best and impose that upon them because it creates economic hardship. That's what drives people out into the streets."
Commissioner Martha Schrader said she's been deep in her own thoughts about the chaos that's gripped the country for more than a week now, and it brought her to the teachings she's observed from the Benedictine brothers and sisters at the Mount Angel Abbey.
"It's very important that we listen intently with the ear of our heart," Schrader said. "It is now time for us to rise up from our sleep and work diligently, quietly and peacefully, in a very centered way, because we have to be the calm in the storm."
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