The animosity and polarization surrounding the issue of police and the community has gone on for too long. It is time for us to put aside out differences and come together and promote peace.
Our mission is simple. Looking around Portland, we see the insular thought and frustration from both sides. We believe that much of this is the result of misinformation, partisan politics, and an ambitious news media. As such, we are working to bring together individuals on both sides of the issue, to promote productive and informative conversations, to open minds, and most importantly to engage and educate young people about this issue so that they can lead the charge towards creating more peaceful communities. While we are starting with Portland, our ultimate goal is to improve police and community relations across the country. In our work, we will aim to address what we have identified as the five key components of this issue: (1) Insular Thought, (2) Lack of City Engagement, (3) Race, (4) Accountability, (5) Lack of Youth Involvement.
Although seemingly intractable, the issue of how police interact with their communities, particularly young people in communities, represents an area where change is possible. Analyzing the morphology of existing challenges and designing programmatic initiatives that directly address the root causes of those challenges can produce meaningful results. While no single panacea exists, and any youth-created solutions will struggle to achieve sustainability, efficacious and enduring change remains possible.
An incredible amount of polarizaition exists. Minority groups impacted by police abuses or simply mistrustful of the police have faced decades of negative relations with the police and therefore are unwilling to change their perspective. White, middle class Portlanders see anger towards the police as a whole as a linchpin liberal cause and are susceptible to media hyperbole and emotional thought. To support the police is seen as questioning one’s liberal values. Police advocates and officers are frustrated with the abuse and criticism they are receiving, as many of them have indeed selflessly worked to defend and protect the Portland community and feel that many do not understand the nuances and risks of what they do. So many years of anger have led to an extreme polarization between the groups and prompted incredibly insular thought that has largely inhibited productive dialogue.
The Central Issue
Chicago, Ferguson, Charlotte . . . Portland. The last several years feature persistent issues in the relationship between police forces and the communities they serve. Tragic incidents reveal the huge gulf between how police view their role and their performance of their duties and how communities, particularly minority communities, view the attitudes and actions of the police. Figuring out how to bridge the existing gulf presents a defining social justice challenge of our time.
Statistics elucidate the urgency of the problem. While teens 16-19 account for 3.5% of interactions with police, 30.1% of the incidences of police use of force are perpetrated on 16-19-year-olds. A massive disconnect exists between the police, often under-educated and under-trained, and young people, many facing desperate financial circumstances and often of a race different from the majority of the local police force.
By the good fortune of my race and economic status, I do not live in fear of the violence that characterizes police interactions with young people. Moved by the very human stories of those involved in the senseless violence that results from these interactions – life-altering events for the police and the young people – I seek solutions that will increase dialogue and understating and reduce the frequency of negative outcomes.
The origins of the existing problems reflect broader socio-economic trends in the United States. The kinds of personality types recruited for police work, the mindset of those who sought such work, and the shortcomings in the training provided proved a horrific mismatch with the challenges of modern policing. In addition, movements to encourage community control of police in the latter part of the 20th century failed to result in adequate numbers of police officers coming from the communities where they worked. The less comprehensive “community policing” solutions created more bonds between individual police officers and the neighborhoods they patrolled, but could not overcome the lack of understanding between the two groups.
As a result, a high level of dysfunction existed in the basic relationship between police forces and their communities and tensions were persistently high. Remedial programs that failed to address the root causes of the problems failed. This meant that any incident between the two groups could morph into something far more serious and safety valves intended to diffuse challenging situations did not work.
Portland as a Microcosm
Already subject to a Department of Justice consent decree for past police misdeeds, Portland has faced constant unrest stemming from a string of intermittent incidents between minority youth and the Portland Police Bureau. Last month, Quanice Hayes, a 17-year-old African-American male from Portland’s east side became the latest statistic in the simmering war between Portland’s minority communities and the police. In fact, this issue has become so serious, that Portland’s new mayor, Ted Wheeler, chose the Police Bureau as his primary responsibility and Portland City Council meetings faced loud protests only last week.
That an “enlightened” city like Portland faces what appears an almost-intractable problem may seem surprising, but given Oregon and Portland’s aggressively racist history, modern-day problems appear consistent with the city and state’s past. Portland’s issues mirror those of many other cities with a high level of ongoing tension, regular issues between the police and young people, clear examples of Portland Police resorting too quickly to lethal and non-lethal force, and the irregular killing of minority youth. Notwithstanding the significant resources devoted to addressing this issue, the problems remain
Prominent Organizations Working on This Issue
As noted above, Portland devotes significant budget and human resources toward addressing this problem. The city operates a well-staffed “Office of Youth Violence Prevention” and the Portland Police Bureau features a “Youth Services Division.” These two groups coordinate closely with one another and a variety of government and non-government organizations collaborate via the Portland Peace Collaborative, a kind of multi-organization self-help group that meets every two weeks. These groups individually and collectively provide services to young people, particularly gang members, and seek the means to foster connections between young people and the police. Among the community groups active around these issues are: Don’t Shoot PDX/Black Lives Matter, and the ACLU.