So here we go again. Add James Jahar Perez to the list of people of color shot and killed by Portland police officers during the course of a traffic stop. The predictable outcries arise. The police union president gets quoted in one local biweekly, claiming Police Chief Derrick Foxworth is “pandering to community activists,” while the local daily runs autopsy results on its front page revealing high drug levels in the system of the victim. Law and order advocates make much of the victim’s crime record, while law-abiding people of color come forward with stories about their own negative encounters with police and their personal fears.
You know what?
I’m sick and tired of reading about these incidents. Ever since I moved to Portland over twenty-two years ago, racial incidents involving police aggression toward minorities have popped up with disturbing frequency. One or two incidents are a tragedy. More than that, a problematic pattern of police behavior, at least.
Yeah, I’m a white gal. Yeah, I’m basically law-abiding and stay out of trouble. But, based on one anecdotal experience of my own with Portland police, I’m a bit concerned about their behavioral patterns. A few years back, I was driving my caved-in-side, backwoods beater pickup truck through Hawthorne. I noticed the police cruiser lurking in what’s now the Washington Mutual parking lot pull behind me. I didn’t think much of it, because I was driving legally. Then I signaled and switched lanes. Bingo. Red and blue flashing lights.
I pulled over. The cop yelled at me because, in his opinion, I’d cut off another car. He pulled out his ticket book and was ready to write the ticket up – then took a look at my driver’s license.
“Oh. You live in Westmoreland,” he said. The ticket book got put away. He yelled at me for five more minutes, then let me go. No ticket.
Now I ask you, dear readers, just what in the hell am I supposed to think of that? I’ve observed officers in the process of writing tickets, and it’s been my experience that once that book comes out, you’ve got the ticket. That ticket was mine, no doubt about it, until the cop saw I lived in a relatively well-to-do part of town. Profiling? Socioeconomic bias based on my apparently decrepit vehicle? Well, if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and wears a green and yellow sweater with a big fat “O” on it, it sure ain’t a Beaver or a Viking. What do you think?
Based on my own and anecdotal experiences I’ve heard about from African American friends and people with African American loved ones, I have little doubt that bias exists in the Portland police force. And as a taxpaying and voting citizen of this city, I’m tired of the continuing culture of bad behavior that seems to be tolerated in our police force. Dead possums tossed in front of an African American business. “Don’t smoke ’em, choke ’em” T-shirts after an African American man died in a choke hold. A death toll which, if crime records and general lowlife-ness were really a factor in these shootings, would reflect poor white folks as well.
Mind you, I don’t doubt that some of the less affluent white folks in Portland would have a harassment story or two to tell, as well. It’s just that their stories are less likely to end with someone dead.
For all of its supposed progressivism, Portland has a nasty little secret when it comes to the police force and racial minorities. Bias exists within the culture of Portland’s police force, and it has been allowed to fester and grow for far too long in the alleged name of law and order. If our civic leaders truly were concerned about promoting Portland as a world-class location, maybe they’d get off their collective behinds and insist that something would be done. On the other hand, maybe the current situation fits what their goals are. All I know is that I’m sick of reading about these incidents, and it’s time we did something about it, even if it’s no more than voting for mayoral and city council candidates willing to hold the police accountable for their actions.