Doesn’t Stoking Feelings of Anger & Victimization Just Get More of the Same?

http://www.disabilityrightsoregon.org/the-dro-blog/2009/11/30/portland-police

Portland needs a truth and reconciliation process for its police system. It needs an independently appointed review body with teeth for citizen complaints. It needs the renewed commitment of police personnel to a mission of safety, professionalism, transparency and accountability. It also needs community attention and support for the successes, not just the controversies.

Last week, hundreds of Portland police officers protested against their Chief Rosie Sizer, Portland Commissioner Dan Saltzman (our elected official who oversees the police) and The Oregonian (our major newspaper). The protesting officers sought sympathy and support by positioning themselves as victims of authority.

I had something to say then, but waited to comment.

At the police protest, some officers wore t-shirts stating: “I am Chris Humphreys.” If you weren’t closely following the action, you might assume that Chris was an officer killed or injured in the line of duty, having bravely placed himself in danger to protect a helpless citizen. Or you might suppose he had drawn the spotlight through hours of volunteer service, promoting understanding with skeptical minority communities or educating himself about citizens with mental and physical disabilities.
But no. Portland police identify with Chris Humphreys because — three years after helping to beat James Chasse, a frail mentally ill man, to death — he was disciplined for poor judgment after using a bean bag shot gun at point-blank range to control a flailing 12-year-old girl.
I had something to say then, but waited to comment.

I find the way that this city processes the question of how our police should act to be maddening. Letting my fury fly would just make me a player in the very process that could produce “excited delirium” in any observer.

I heard that the Portland City Attorney now claims that James Chasse was having an episode of “excited delirium” when he was beaten to death. This “disorder”has been aggressively promoted by the Taser industry to explain why some people die after being tasered or held in prone restraint. I guess the City Attorney thinks that after the small man with schizophrenia was chased, leapt upon and had the majority of his ribs cracked on the cement sidewalk, his continued struggle was not brought on by fear for his life, but by a mysterious medical syndrome that justified his being kicked, punched and repeatedly Tazered by a man who is now lionized on police t-shirts.
I had something to say then, but waited to comment.

When the police amassed in front of City Hall I could not help but think of all the times in history when a country’s army or police converged under government buildings to seek the removal of elected governments. Although this overtly political action seemed designed to portray police as victims of politics and misunderstanding, the visual image struck me as intimidating. The paramilitary to which we give special authority to carry weapons (and, of course, to use them when necessary) were making a show of force beneath the gate of our implicitly wimpy elected officials.

As you can tell by now, I find the way that this city processes the question of how our police should act to be maddening. Letting my fury fly would just make me a player in the very process that could produce “excited delirium” in any observer.

I waited to comment because I needed to cool down.

Portland wants a skilled and professional police force to both protect and respect us. As a public service paid for with tax dollars, citizens are entitled to transparency and accountability in its provision. The process that we seem to have now of dueling accusations and scare tactics, mutually assured covering of behinds, scapegoating and the seemingly inevitable, publicly funded “stress claim” parachutes and law suits resolve nothing. If an officer has joined the police force because he or she likes the feeling of power that comes from being feared, switching to an auditor position with the IRS might be a better choice. If a police officer is in the struggle because he or she likes the feeling of power that comes from throwing stones at authority, the blogosphere offers many opportunities.

My settled down view goes like this:

Portland needs a truth and reconciliation process for its police system. It needs an independently appointed review body with teeth for citizen complaints. It needs the renewed commitment of police personnel to a mission of safety, professionalism, transparency and accountability. It also needs community attention and support for the successes, not just the controversies.