For woman shot by police, prayers, protests for justice

From The Oregonian, May 12, 2003

They gathered on Mother’s Day to pray and protest.

The prayers were for Kendra James, a 21-year-old mother of two shot dead by a Portland police officer May 5.

The prayers were sweet and compelling and full of heart.

The protests were forceful and filled with a deep concern for a community whose members said they are tired of a justice system that is anything but just.

“It appears that when it comes to people of color, it’s shoot first and get acquitted later,” said the Rev. Roy L. Tate of Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ, who led the vigil for James, an African American.

Several hundred people crowded around a guardrail on the North Skidmore Street crossing over Interstate 5 that was packed with flowers, messages, stuffed animals and photographs of a beaming James. She died there during a confrontation with three officers before dawn a week ago today.

Police say she jumped behind the wheel of a car they’d stopped for running a stop sign after the driver and another passenger had been removed. As two officers struggled to get James out of the car, she started the engine and tried to drive away, police said. At the time, there was a warrant out for her arrest because she had missed a court date.

As the officers wrestled with her, one tried shocking her with a taser gun, which failed. A third, Officer Scott McCollister, fired one shot from his 9 mm handgun, fatally hitting James in the side.

A police union leader has said McCollister feared for his life as the car moved toward him.

The shooting is under investigation.

To the half-dozen speakers who addressed the crowd, the result of that investigation is a foregone conclusion: justified use of force, another dead member of a minority community and no changes in police policies or attitude.

“We will no longer accept our sons and daughters being shot down in the name of justice,” said Pastor LeRoy Haynes Jr. of the Allen Temple. “Give us the strength. Lord, give us the power to change the system.”

Tate decried the use of grand juries, which he thinks always come down on the officers’ side.

“We’re here to tell the system that we are tired of the system,” he said. “The grand jury is a joke. It’s never indicted a police officer, it never has done justice for a person of color.”

He said he would ask Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schrunk today to allow community members to observe the grand jury hearing so they could ensure that justice was being served. Grand jury proceedings are typically closed to the public.

There was talk of filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the city. People wondered aloud what they should do next. Several asked the same question.

“Why did they have to shoot her?” asked Kimela Green.

The participants sang: Tate led “Amazing Grace” and State Sen. Margaret Carter, D-Portland, led “We Shall Overcome.”

Carter also expressed frustration with police and the justice system.

“This is not just a black thing, it’s a community thing,” she said afterward. “The dignity and integrity that is given to the best of us should also be given to the least of us.”