Thursday, June 3, 2010

Queer-bashing in Portland and the police

Last night, I attended the Queer Community Town Hall at the Q Center, that was organized in response to the recent spate of queer-bashings in Portland. The mayor was there, along with the new police chief, other high level folks from the department, someone from the district attorney's office (the only law enforcement to say "we need to take ownership of our mistakes and get better"), as well as the attorney general's office and BOLI. There were also something in the range of 140 community members (we really need to get the Q Center a new air conditioner!). There are lots of things to write about last night but I want to just put a couple of things out there. Having been a part of Ed's campaign, I have been front and center for the recent upheavals and reactions involving the Portland Police Department. I am very aware of the fact that they are undergoing some serious changes, in policy as well as personnel. However, I want to point some concerns out that many folks last night expressed last night in the after-event mingling.

To those law enforcement officials present last night: First and foremost, it really doesn't do any good to tell us that you take reports of bias and hate seriously when, as evidenced by stories shared last night, experience tells us differently. Yes we know many of you are new to your current positions, but you have been, by your own accounts, in Portland law enforcement for a long time. Unfortunately, you don't get (and the feeling was that you want this) a clean slate. It would be nice if that were possible for you, as well as people who have run ins with the law, but the simple truth is that life doesn't work that way.

Second, we heard numerous times about what the policies are-new and old. However, we also heard from community members dealt with by law enforcement in a manner which violates those policies. What was asked, and not answered well, was what is the department doing to ensure adherence to its own policies? I saw this same issue over and over regarding the African American community and their relationship with police. It doesn't MATTER what the book says or what the policy is, if there are not effective and systemic mechanisms for ensuring compliance to them. Yes, we know that, in order to expect action, we need to report incidents. However, there was nothing said last night to engender the feeling of safety necessary for promoting filing reports. By the end of last night, the onus of responsibility was put upon the community to report incidents because without that, law enforcement can't do anything. One community member commented to me that "So, obviously it is our fault that they don't protect us, right?" No it isn't. Yes we need to report incidents, but you need to do your part and actually follow though, not only with reports filed, but with proactively reaching out to our community and respecting us in interactions. As was said many times by African American community members, why should I trust you enough to file a report when you don't respect me enough to give me the time of day? That's the feeling. I can report, but will that actually protect me? Will you? There is a lot of doubt about that, and with good reason. Telling us what the policy is and how much you care, isn't going to fix that.

Now, I have (as does Pride) a positive, working relationship with the police. However, I don't take that for granted and I don't assume that this will always be the case. There is too much evidence pointing to the fact that problems may occur, and too many accounts from my friends, fellow students, and other community members for me to ignore the fact that there is a systemic issue here and I have likely just lucked out so far. Fortunately, last night's town hall is only the first of many because this issue (not to mention bringing our own community together as a whole) is going to take concerted effort and some really honest deliberations.

And here is the rest of it.