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African American Leaders: What Portland Can Learn from Ferguson

Friday, March 13, 2015

 

Recent developments in Ferguson, Mo., where a white police officer was not indicted for shooting an unarmed black teen, have brought to light issues that provide a case in point for Portland, according to leaders in the city’s African American community. 

Black Parent Initiative President and CEO Charles McGee

When a St. Louis County grand jury did not bring charges against former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, protesters took to the streets in Ferguson, Portland, and across the country last November. 

But scathing results from a  federal probe by the Department of Justice released March 4 found the city and Police Department in Ferguson were guilty of racial bias in disproportionately stopping and ticketing African Americans. 

“Ferguson can happen anywhere. Right in Gresham, right in Portland, Oregon,” said Charles McGee, President and CEO of the Black Parent Initiative. 

Lesson #1: Address Systemic Racism 

“We still have glaring inequities in Portland and need to mobilize as a community,” said McGee. 

The DOJ report, which followed a state investigation that found officer Wilson followed protocol in shooting the unarmed teen six times, triggered six resignations within a week, including Ferguson’s City Manager and Police Chief. 

Portland-based writer, filmmaker and former editor of Willamette Week David Walker. Photo: Intisar Abioto

“Getting rid of these people hasn’t gotten rid of underlying systemic racism,” said David Walker, a Portland writer, filmmaker, and former editor of the newspaper Willamette Week. 

Walker argues the overarching issue is that law enforcement and officials in Ferguson, as in Portland, are unaware of the biases already ingrained in society. 

“When you’re blinded by ignorance and racism, that’s a huge problem. Some people spend their lives thinking nothing is wrong,” Walker said. 

After prosecutor Robert McCullough released the Ferguson grand jury’s findings, he said some witnesses of the shooting lied about what they saw, or what they thought they saw. According to reports, McCulloch has still not read the DOJ’s report. 

“I don’t even have the words to describe my feelings about him,” Walker said. “You hope that at some point he will turn around and see the light.”

Lesson #2: The Importance of Voting

For State Representative Lew Frederick, the resignations of Ferguson’s police chief, city manager, and four others, are long overdue. 

One of 13 bills addressing police accountability and profiling that Frederick introduced this legislative session addresses TriMet police, and their apparently disproportionate arrests of people of color, immigrants and low income people. House Bill 2826 would reduce the charge for riding transit without a ticket.

Representative Lew Frederick. Photo: Intisar Abioto

Frederick points to voting as a way for Ferguson, and Portland, to move forward from issues of race inequality. 

“It will be a matter for people to get out to vote,” Frederick said. “If people are not voting, they’re not on jury trials.”

In St. Louis and Multnomah County, the District Attorney is elected. If people are not voting, they are not electing the people who will represent them, Frederick said. 

Lesson #3: Admit the Police System is Broken 

Cameron Whitten, a former mayoral candidate and president of Know Your City, said the police system is broken, and has been for a long time. But the question of how to move forward remains. 

“Be able to fully address what’s broken and how to fix that,” said Whitten. “Institutionally, Jim Crow has been around in policing, and generations have been trying to undo that,” he said. 

In Portland, a Citizen Review Committee and Police Review Board are intended to hold police accountable. A city Community Oversight Advisory Board, which first convened in February 2015, has been tasked with monitoring the implementation of reforms to the Portland Police Bureau agreed upon by the city and the DOJ. 

The reforms followed a lawsuit that found a pattern of excessive use of force against people with mental illness, and call for new policies on training and oversight. 

Know Your City President and former mayoral candidate Cameron Whitten. Photo: Intisar Abioto

“We need a new Mayor and Police Commissioner if we want to get it right,” said Teressa Raiford, lead organizer of the social justice advocacy group Don’t Shoot Portland. 

Lesson #4: Protests Should be Strategic 

The protests in Ferguson and across the nation before and after the grand jury’s decision played a major role in pushing the issue forward, leaders agree. 
But the group that led the marches and rallies in Portland in November, in which seven people were arrested on one night, has drawn criticism for a number of actions. 

Don’t Shoot Portland interrupted both a town hall held by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, and a Portland Public Schools meeting in which the board had to postpone a vote on student transfer guidelines. 
“People want to vilify Don’t Shoot Portland, but they’ve been able to push the conversation,” said Cameron Whitten.  

The former mayoral candidate pointed out the Albina Ministerial Alliance was once seen as an aggressive fringe group, but the organization has been heralded of late for its progressive work. 
Promise King, Executive Director of the Oregon League of Minority Voters, said discrimination becomes “normalized” in society’s systems and institutions, and that dismantling inequality demands examining those systems. 

Protests, he said, are most effective when they call for people to direct their efforts toward changing those systems of injustice. 

Whitten said he is aware some law enforcement and members of the public are of the opinion that Don’t Shoot Portland “need to go home and be quiet.”

“Well, they should stop shooting people, then,” said Whitten.

 

Related Slideshow: What Portland Can Learn from Ferguson

Recent developments in Ferguson, Mo., where a white police officer was not indicted for shooting an unarmed black teen, have brought to light issues that provide a case in point for Portland, according to leaders in the city’s African American community. 

Prev Next

Charles McGee

President, Black Parent Initiative 

Lesson #1: Address Systemic Racism 

"Ferguson can happen anywhere. Right in Gresham, right in Portland, Oregon,” said Charles McGee, President and CEO of the Black Parent Initiative. 

“We still have glaring inequities in Portland and need to mobilize as a community,” said McGee. 

Prev Next

David Walker 

Writer, Filmmaker 

Lesson #1: Address Systemic Racism 

Walker argues the overarching issue is that law enforcement and officials in Ferguson, as in Portland, are unaware of the biases already ingrained in society. 

“When you’re blinded by ignorance and racism, that’s a huge problem. Some people spend their lives thinking nothing is wrong,” Walker said. 

Prev Next

Lew Frederick 

Representative, House District 43

Lesson #2: The Importance of Voting

Frederick points to voting as a way for Ferguson, and Portland, to move forward from issues of race inequality. 

“It will be a matter for people to get out to vote,” Frederick said.

Prev Next

Cameron Whitten

President, Know Your City 

Lesson #3: Admit the Police System is Broken

Cameron Whitten, a former mayoral candidate and president of Know Your City, said the police system is broken, and has been for a long time. But the question of how to move forward remains. 

“Be able to fully address what’s broken and how to fix that,” said Whitten. “Institutionally, Jim Crow has been around in policing, and generations have been trying to undo that,” he said. 

Prev Next

Promise King

Executive Director of the Oregon League of Minority Voters

Lesson #4: Protests Should be Strategic 

King said discrimination becomes “normalized” in society’s systems and institutions, and that dismantling inequality demands examining those systems. 

Protests, he said, are most effective when they call for people to direct their efforts toward changing those systems of injustice. 

 
 

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