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SLIDES: 7 Leading Portland African American Men and their Experience with Police

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

 

In light of actions by #DontShootPDX, and events around the nation, we asked prominent leaders in Portland's African American community about their experiences with -- and suggestions for -- police. Here's what they had to say. 

 

Related Slideshow: Slideshow: Some of Portland’s Leading African American Men

Seven leaders in Portland's African American community shared their experiences with --and suggestions for --police. 

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Cameron Whitten -23

President, Know Your City, former mayoral candidate 

How many times have you been stopped by police?

I live on the west side of Portland, and the only time I ever was stopped was in Cully. They made an assumption based on the geography of where I was. I was 20 at the time, during my 2012 run for office, walking to a friend’s house on Northeast Alberta Street and 50th Avenue. I kept walking past a parked police car, they came out and stopped me, took my drivers card. It was like ‘What’s your name, oh, you’re the guy running for mayor.’ When they came back, it was ‘oh yeah, we police aren’t so bad.’ 

What was your experience? How did it make you feel ?

Even with my presence in Portland, I am not safe from racial profiling. I was angry and upset, shaken up. I really felt marginalized and like I didn’t have power to breathe. I didn’t feel protected, and police are paid by public dollars. It’s not how cops should be able to twist judgement. 

What are your suggestions for police?

Diversify, be transparent. I envision a police force that looks more like my community. I want the change of culture of the police to be more in the community. I would like to be transparent. I would like to see changes. 

Photo Credit: Intisar Abioto

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Bernie Foster - 67

Publisher, the Skanner News Group

How many times have you been stopped by police?

In 11 years, I’ve probably been stopped twice, but I know what to say. I’m 67 years old, I’m cautious. When I was younger, it was different. I’ve lived in Northeast Portland for 45 years.

What was your experience? How did it make you feel ?

I don’t like getting stopped, period, especially if I don’t know the officer. One of the routines I told my kids is when they get stopped on any highway or freeway, to pull into a well-lighted area. The second thing to do is repeat every command, repeat it back to the police office. If they say ‘show me your driver’s license,’ say ‘here’s my drivers license.’ They won’t say it but police are trained to assassinate. They practice killing all the time. I repeat every command, like ‘My registration is in the glove compartment, do you want to get it or should I get it?’

What are your suggestions for police?

I did an editorial a couple years ago and we said ‘don’t call the police,’ because many young black folks are getting killed when they call police. If we give police all the power to take a life, we should hold them accountable.

Photo Credit: Intisar Abioto

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Lew Frederick -63

Oregon State Representative, House District 43 

How many times have you been stopped by police?

I’ve been stopped innumerable times throughout the state over the 40 years I’ve lived here. Probably the most egregious example is when I was a reporter for Channel 8 in the 90s, I was stopped in a marked news van. When the police officer came to the window, he called for backup and asked for the registration. The registration was in the glovebox. I started to reach for the registration and he pulled a gun out. He said ‘I need to see your hands at all times,’ so I reached down with one hand and handed it to the driver, who handed it to the officer.

What was your experience? How did it make you feel ?

I registered a complaint with the King City (south of Tigard) police office. The police officer was relatively new, and I was told ‘He was just a little nervous.' Him being nervous could have gotten me killed. Any African American male I know has been stopped and harassed or detained or set up as suspicious.  If I’m pulled over by police, one of the first things that goes through my mind is ‘am I going to die today?’ There is no recourse if a cop says ‘I was in fear of my life.’ That can be for a bb gun, a camera, a cell phone, a pen.

What are your suggestions for police?

I have 13 bills I will be introducing in the house related to this issue. We need to do something regarding profiling and psychological evaluation. We need to begin to recreate a sense of trust that has been severely damaged. 

Photo Credit: Intisar Abioto

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Ken Boddie - 55

Reporter and Anchor, KOIN 6 News

How many times have you been stopped by police?

I’ve been here for more than 30 years now, and lived in Gresham initially. When I was there, obviously a long time ago in the early 80s, I was stopped several times. Basically, in my opinion, they were just trying to check me out. ‘A young black guy driving a nice car, let’s check him out.’ I would give them my information, they would give it back. There was no real reason for them to stop me in the first place. That was my experience early. Now that I’m more prominent, that doesn’t happen. In my own neighborhood, in the John’s landing area, I was on my way home from work late one Sunday night. I stopped at a stoplight near my home, and when I pulled out, I saw a police car with its lights going follow me all the way to my condo complex. The officer came up, recognized me, and said he stopped me because I did a ‘California stop,’ (incomplete stop), which I did. His demeanor changed when he recognized me. 

What was your experience? How did it make you feel ?

Having been in the Portland area for so long, I almost expect it occasionally, no matter where you are in terms of social status. Even as a young kid in Rochester New York, my parents used to have those talks with me about how to act when you’re stopped by police. Those lessons follow me to this day. 

What are your suggestions for police?

My advice for police would be to keep lines of communication on both sides open, and in Portland, that has been occurring. As long as lines of communication remain open, there’s hope. 

Photo Credit: Intisar Abioto

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David Walker - 46

Writer, former editor of Willamette Week

How many times have you been stopped by police? 

I haven’t been pulled over in 15 years, and the last time I got pulled over I had a busted headlight. When I was young, living in Portland in my 20s, I got harassed, and as a kid growing up in a small town on the east coast. Three years ago, I was at the post office in Northwest Portland when a guy got into a tussle with a postal worker. I wrestled the guy off. I begged one of the witnesses to stay there, because I thought, ‘when the cops come back, they’re going to shoot me.’ They’re going to see a crazy white guy rolling on the floor with a black guy, and a white postal worker laid out on the floor. I also wanted to make sure the cops didn’t rough him up, because he was mentally ill. 

What was your experience? How did it make you feel ?

We need to protect each other from the police. We were taught as kids, ‘if there’s a problem, go to the policeman.’ Now it’s like, ‘before you go to the cops, make sure someone’s got a video camera rolling.’ I see a video of Eric Garner, or read about Michael Brown, and if you got me on a bad day, I could have been any one of those guys, at the right age or right time. If I’m driving and a cop comes behind me, I go into instant ‘freakout’ mode. I do a mental checklist of ‘do I have my wallet, insurance, registration, what part of town am I in,’ you know. 

What are your suggestions for police?

There needs to be a higher standard of what it takes to be a cop. If there’s one person joining the police force because it’s a steady paycheck and you get to carry a gun, that’s one two many. As a country, society and culture, we need to get to a point where black people are not assumed to be guilty of something. 

Photo Credit: Intisar Abioto 

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Lolenzo Poe - 62

Chief Equity and Diversity Officer,  Portland Public Schools

How many times have you been stopped by police?

I’ve been stopped several times over the course of my life. It’s always been either ‘you fit some description,’ and there’s not much of a discussion about it, other than to go back and find out they were looking for somebody whois also African American.  I was pulled over driving down MLK Blvd. a couple years ago, after leaving a Jefferson High School basketball game. I asked why and the officer said ‘your tail light is out.’ The tail light was not out. There was some activity by Jefferson High, and after he checked my license, I left. I’m in my sixties, I’m not a gang member. 

What was your experience? How did it make you feel ?

It is always a traumatic experience, you feel belittled and small. I learned early from my grandmother who raised me, you don’t want to get into a confrontation with police officers, so you respond accordingly. I felt in a position not to exert my rights, and ask the straightforward question ‘why am I being stopped?’ I was taught to be humble. My grandmother was from the south, and always worried I would get harmed by law enforcement. 

What are your suggestions for police?  

Do anything to de-escalate the tension that is already happening. You can diminish tensions by tone of voice and demeanor. Nobody feels self-assured when your hands are on a gun. Don’t stop people for non-legitimate things. Say ‘can I see your license,’ and explain why.

Photo Credit: Intisar Abioto

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Charles McGee

President and CEO, Black Parent Initiative 

How many times have you been stopped by police?

I don’t benefit from reliving those experiences. It’s like saying ‘how many times have you been traumatized?’ Me, I don’t remember that stuff, it’s not a good feeling. When I switched cars and got a hybrid, I stopped getting pulled over. Who expects a black man to walk out of a Camry hybrid?

What was your experience? How did it make you feel ?

Every single time one of these shootings happen, I feel disposable. Like my life has very little significance. When my four-year-old son asked if I could protect him from being the next Trayvon Martin, I said I couldn’t.  It’s both humbling and scary. After Taymar Rice was killed, I threw away my son’s toy guns and said ‘you can’t play like that anymore.’

What are your suggestions for police?

The reality is that it’s beyond police officers. George Zimmerman was not a police officer. Even how we victimize the victim. Like, if they had weed in their system. Even though it’s legal, we still demonize people who use it. We have to have a fundamentally different conversation.

Photo Credit: Intisar Abioto

 
 

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