The Portland community has raised questions and concerns about the Portland Police Bureau’s investigation of the fatal shooting of Kendra James, 21, during a routine traffic stop May 5.
In search of answers, closure and justice, more than 450 people of all ages and races attended a five-hour public forum on July 1 at the Mount Olivet Baptist Church Family Center, located just minutes from North Skidmore Street, where the shooting took place.
Before the meeting, specific ground rules were established in order to maintain civil actions and respect during discussion, including the request that participants make “I” statements, as opposed to generalizations.
It was established prior to the forum that many community members believed an alternative method of force could have been used.
The purpose of the forum was displayed on an overhead projection that read, “to have a dialogue in order to improve police and community relations and to reduce the chances of harm occurring to another Portland citizen in the
Portland Mayor Vera Katz was present and gave a brief statement about the events and her concern for the community’s recovery.
“We learn from tragedies in our community, and a lot of work is still ahead for all of us,” she said. “And I’m going to ask many of you tonight to think about participating with us as we begin the work that needs to go on after this meeting is over.”
Katz added that she hoped the outcome of the forum would result in more activism from the community and create dialogue with the police.
The shooting has created anger and doubts throughout the Portland area. Consequently, members of the community have responded with protests arguing the event never should have escalated to the administration of lethal force.
In attendance was the Albina Ministerial Alliance’s shooting investigation committee, which sat opposite the panel of Portland Police officers and representatives involved in the shooting, including Police Chief Mark Kroeker. Officer Scott McCollister, who shot and killed James, was absent.
Kroeker followed Katz, saying, “I have a hope for this evening. And it is my hope that people of good faith come together to learn from one another, to listen to each other, and to give into working together to build a more solid and positive relationship in our community, and will be heard.”
Also filling in the community members side of the discussion were local church representatives and close family and friends of James.
A member of the ad hoc committee involved with the investigation, Pastor W. G. Hardy Jr., said, “We must not accept propaganda or misinformation, we must press until the meetings reveal the truth that our system needs to be changed.”
Hardy went on to say he did not want this meeting, and the subsequent meeting to follow, to be about Kendra James as a person, her choices, or her race.
“We the community cannot allow ourselves to be fragmented. We are not here to justify Kendra’s actions. This is not a black issue. It’s about the pursuit of justice.”
He closed by stating, “We’re in this for the long haul,” bringing the majority of the crowd to its feet, shouting in anger and agreement.
After crowd members took their seats, the police chief, detectives and training officers offered their explanation for the actions taken on the night of the event.
Witness statements, evidence examinations, police reports and recollections, as well as the evening’s anticipated videotaped re-enactment of the shooting, were all presented in a speech prepared by 13-year veteran Detective John Brooks.
Two hours and 15 minutes into the detailed account of the investigation conducted by the police department, the Rev. Roy Tate interrupted Brooks by saying, “I think the community has heard enough. They’re tired of listening.”
Tate’s statement was followed from large roars of agreement and shouting of “We’ve heard enough.” and “Give us a turn!”
After a brief wrap-up of the investigation, community members were then given the microphones and were able to voice their opinions and questions for the panels.
Members of the audience argued with disgust over the procedures of investigation, mainly questioning how McCollister could have felt his life was endangered according to the video and witness accounts.
Oregon City resident Theresa Teeter, who was previously an undercover agent, questioned the police officer’s training and the improper use of non-lethal weapons, saying had these tactics been used properly, “Kendra James would still be alive.”
Also in attendance was Tiara Fritz, a cousin of James. Fritz expressed her discontent with the answers the police had provided, saying, “Somehow, your uniform represents a shield, a separation from everybody. It seems to me the thing to do is hide behind the blue (uniform).”
As more community members stepped up to ask questions or make comments to the panel, it became apparent the answers the crowd was seeking were not going to be given that night, or perhaps ever. At least not until the police department came off the defensive and began to conduct an objective investigation.
An anonymous community member, later escorted from the forum for being unruly, seemed to express the discontent of the entire evening when he asked Kroeker, “Why does it have to come to people having to sue you to change things in this town? I swear to God, I do not understand why it is people have to die (for it to happen).”