Together, with Jefferson Smith, we'll reconcile with the police and reform a broken system

By Rev. Chuck Currie of Portland, Oregon. Chuck is a long-time activist and minister in the United Church of Christ. He regularly blogs at and the Huffington Post.

As an undergraduate student at Pacific University, my political science mentor was Oregon's iconic pundit Russ Dondero. With 25 years as founder/coordinator of the McCall Forum, Professor Dondero has hosted national political figures on all sides of the political spectrum. His career as a teacher and advocate underscores the value of civil discourse as foundational for trust based politics.

If you asked him today, as I have, you'll find that the campaign Jefferson Smith is running for Portland mayor parallels the type of coalition Robert Kennedy built in 1968 in his race for the presidency in that tumultuous and tragic year (Dondero, a Forest Grove resident, has not endorsed in this race). Smith has brought the police together with the protestors, and put together a rainbow coalition that would have made Kennedy (or Jesse Jackson for that matter) proud.

The recent decision by the Portland Police Association (PPA), the police union, to endorse Smith has caught some by surprise. After all, Smith has been on record supporting the goals of the Occupy Wall Street movement and was the only candidate for mayor critical of the effort to remove protestors from downtown Portland last fall. Some, myself included (and a Smith supporter), have been openly critical of the PPA for their efforts to fight reform of the Portland Police Bureau and to protect officers clearly guilty of wrong doing. What makes for this election year marriage?

First, I agree 100% with Smith - and always have - that the majority of those who serve on the force are capable and dedicated people who love this city. In the words of the Occupy movement, the police are the 99%. The PPA finds common cause with Smith's record of fighting for public employees, working to address social issues like human trafficking, his courage in publicly championing the passage of Measures 66/67 (which protected public safety, education and human services) while others hid on the sidelines, and in his ability to bring diverse people together to tackle tough issues. With Smith as mayor, I believe that the changes pushed for by groups like the Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA) Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, reforms I strongly back, have a better chance of becoming reality.

We do need change in this city as it relates to the Portland Police. No question about it. We also need reconciliation. Too many people have lost faith in the Portland Police and that hinders public safety on so many levels. We've heard too many African-American Portlanders talk about their fears regarding the police and how Portlanders are afraid to call the police because of shootings. But there is another reality. Police are better trained today because of the efforts of advocates and the courage of many officers to push for better educational opportunities that enhance their service. There are countless stories of police going above and beyond the call of duty to help someone facing mental illness, homelessness, or domestic violence.

Smith's relationships will make the work of reconciliation easier because as a candidate he has worked to lay the foundation for a united city that is focused on solving the big problems of inequity, economic opportunity, public safety, and housing. He knows this work cannot be accomplished alone. It will take people of differing views coming together. Teachers, bike advocates, fire fighters, union leaders, and even the Green Party all agree with the PPA that Smith will make the best mayor. That's diversity.

Change won't come easy to the police or the city as a whole but I'm confident, however, that when he assumes the office of mayor Jefferson Smith's core progressive values will drive the debate and set an agenda that moves us forward in substantial ways. He won't be beholden to the downtown business community or a single special interest but committed to making Portland better with the help of a diverse coalition of Portlanders devoted to the common good.

Endorsements made by Rev. Currie are his own and do not represent the views of the United Church of Christ’s national offices in Cleveland or any local UCC congregation.

    • (Show?)

      Middle class white men agreeing with each other. How is that diversity?

    • (Show?)

      Thanks, Daniel. We're a better city when we work together!

  • (Show?)

    Teachers, bike advocates, fire fighters, union leaders, and even the Green Party all agree with the PPA that Smith will make the best mayor. That's diversity.

    Minor point, but the Green Party actually ranked Jefferson third best.

    • (Show?)

      Bye one vote. And there are currently attempts within the party to have a revote that are being blocked. The rank and file of the local party are apparently not too thrilled about how this process went down. Also, the state Greens endorsed Jefferson.

      • (Show?)

        *BY one vote

        • (Show?)

          or "BUY" one vote might be appropriate if you look into the process.

          • (Show?)

            Thanks for clarifying that. I knew the state Green Party had endorsed Jefferson. Didn't really understand that initial response from Charlie.

          • (Show?)

            Devon was not a Brady staffer until after the vote. He has recused himself from every related matter since then.

            I am happy having a meeting to reconsider the endorsements. I think if anything Smith and Brady both stand to lose the endorsement if we do that based on the behavior of their supporters. And I will argue for that at such a meeting. Jorden let a meeting go forty five minutes over shedule to try to get consensus and it was never reached. We had a many months long process to determine the first vote. Smith and Brady neither worked hard for the endorsement and did not return questionnaires from our activist core group until after the vote and neither Smith nor Brady could be nailed down on our issues.

            Devon is financially conflicted but you accuse Jorden of conflicts too. What about your conflicts and attempts to get Stephen to support Smith? Why are people even supporting these corporate candidates? I was surprised that the vote endorsed all three when it happened. We never endorse corporate Democrats in the past. Now I see why.

            I still consider both an approximate wash. Brady supports some very powerful reforms regarding process and elections but Smith came out stronger for home rule. On other issues they diverge too, but not by much. The amount of personal attacking by supporters on both sides needs to stop as it is not justified based on their minor differences.

            Today Stephen and Jorden will go head to head at a board meeting. I am not sure the outcome, but I will use the opportunity to call for another consideration of the vote with enough notice to be meaningful. This last minute Politicking by two Smith partisans and then blast on blogs and Facebook is shameful. The general election requires a second endorsement process per our rules. And while I was open to reconsidering it earlier before neither candidate has outshone the other. When one candidate came out with stronger positions so then did the other.

            Unfortunately time has run out. Smith's camp did not show he was much better. For one his staffer acted like an ass to me. Brady's staff hasn't insulted me once. For two, I just do not care anymore except that Smith staffers and supporters are trying to interfere with our process. Concentrate on getting into the top two based on issues rather that crap revote fights. There was no swarm of members wanting to revote, so it did not happen.

      • (Show?)

        State Green Party did NOT endorse Jefferson against Brady. The local chapter endorsed three candidates in rank order. Brady and Smith were within one vote, but Cameron was way out on top.

        The state party does not do local endorsements and cannot contradict a local party endorsement. All three were officially endorsed and could represent as such.

        I tell you this as a spokesperson on the State Coordinating Committee and Treasurer of the Portland Greens.

        Personally I find that Brady likes to point out her second place vote above Jefferson disturbing. She should stick to arguing her positions not endorsements.

  • (Show?)

    It's a little surprising that Jefferson Smith would be eager to trumpet the Police Union's endorsement; next up, "Frashour for Bureau of Transportation Director??"

  • (Show?)

    I had been planning on voting for Jefferson Smith, but his unwillingness to commit to keeping grand jury testimony on police shootings and violence cases makes me very, very angry and I will not vote for him or otherwise support him unless he makes such a public commitment.

    I would also like to see him make a commitment to changing PPB training practices that have created a pattern of avoidable and unjustified police killings, that make me unsure what I would do if a loved one were suicidal because I would fear that to call 911 would expose the loved one to extrajudicial police homicide by paramilitarized police.

    I would also like to see him make a commitment to genuine civilian oversight and a clear statement that the present police review process is broken and inadequate.

    But I no longer expect those things, and think my previous understanding of Smith's character was just wishful thinking. Since I no longer see much difference among any of the top candidates, I probably will abstain in effect by voting for Cameron Witten in protest against Portland's sclerotic establishment liberalism that sees clearing the parks of Occupy protesters and fining a DIY effort at solving housing problems that local governments treat as less important than criminalizing houselessness and letting more than 47 houseless people die as a result.

    • (Show?)

      You should consider asking Jefferson about these issues directing. Some of the other campaigns with all there money are trying to spin the facts. These issues are of vital importance to me. I've worked on them most of my adult life. I would endorse Jefferson if I didn't trust him. Regardless, I appreciate that you care about these issues deeply as well.

  • (Show?)

    Should be that sees clearing the parks of Occupy protesters and fining a DIY effort at solving housing problems that local governments treat as more important than stopping the criminalization houselessness and letting more than 47 houseless people die as a result.

  • (Show?)

    And make sure you check out the section of his website where he addresses housing and homelessness - as that is a concern with also seem to share:

  • (Show?)

    Thanks for a great post, Chuck. All police officers get training on interacting with persons in mental health crisis. MORE training obviously would help avert some police killings. And we need education in school and in popular culture -- to increase awareness of the effects of intellectual disabilities and the distress of emotion/rage.

    • (Show?)

      I agree 100%.

      Jefferson also knows that race has been a factor not just in these shootings but in other issues. That's why I and others asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate in wrongdoing. Their report should be helpful.

      We don't talk enough about race in Portland. Jefferson's campaign has put together the most diverse coalitions, staff and volunteer base working on policy issues. He's setting the stage for a very inclusive term(s) as mayor in ways I've not been able to discern on my own from the other candidates.

      Again, thanks so much for your comment!

    • (Show?)

      Hey Chuck,

      I'm not a fan of personal attacks either, but I don't think I've seen very many aspersions on people's character here.

      There are some disagreements on policy - should grand jury transcripts in police shootings be public? - but asking those questions and raising concerns isn't a personal attack.

      Unless I missed something?

        • (Show?)

          I suppose in political terms, the good news is that while Jefferson Smith is building a diverse coalition of Portlanders to unite around a progressive platform of change some his opponents are wasting their time making these attacks. JoAnn's negative piece on the behest of Ms. Brady sure didn't seem to be very popular on Blue Oregon. Jefferson's positive vision, on the other hand, seems to be helping him gain ground against two candidates financed by special interest money that Smith's grassroots campaign cannot match.

          • (Show?)

            Chuck, I think you need to re-read JoAnn's post. She didn't mention any candidate except Eileen Brady - and it was a positive piece about Eileen's independent leadership.

            Methinks some doth protest too much.

            • (Show?)

              I'm referring the comments made by both her and Jon. I think thou doth ignore too much.

              But the real issue here is who can bring the city together to reform the Police Bureau and fix broken relationships.

              That's Jefferson Smith. And that's why such a diverse coalition has endorsed him.

  • (Show?)

    The issue of grand jury testimony keeps coming up and whether it should be open or closed. Jefferson has already said that he's to committed to opening grand jury testimony on a case by case basis, which is exactly how I think it should be.

    As I brought up elsewhere, there can be sensitive material brought up in a grand jury. If your rule is that the testimony and such is always open to the public, you lose the ability to be able to keep sensitive items from the public. And yes, sometimes there are very good reasons why something should be public.

    Take the example I used elsewhere - say there is a shooting that deals with undercover officers. The details of their undercover operations are going to come up in the grand jury, as may the identities of one or more of the undercover officers. Even if you strike their names, whoever it is they were trying to bust will recognize the details and will then know they were a part of an undercover operation. That becomes very dangerous for officers.

    Now obviously that's not going to be the case all the time, which means you'd open the grand jury testimony and details for the public to read. That's what you change the rules so that they can be public, not that they have to be.

  • (Show?)

    Jenni makes a good point, but it's not all about protecting investigations or police elements. A grand jury hearing can absorb a LOT of testimony and evidence that is a means to reaching a decision, but is otherwise irrelevant to the public. Details about the personal lives of victims, family members and witnesses that are disclosed in the context of a closed hearing, can become cheap media fodder when forced into the public domain.

    There IS value in public transparency, and I think that's why it's smart to advocate for a case-by-case review. There's a good reason they're kept secret though.

  • (Show?)

    Chuck, I don't need a private conversation with Jefferson Smith. If he said things to me that he won't say in public, it would make me distrustful.

    The issue is his public positions. Case-by-case is the wrong position on police violence grand jury transparency. It appears to reflect a misdiagnosis of the problem as one of mayoral management, rather than profound system dysfunction. Commitment to systematic transparency is needed. It's a low bar and if he won't step over it, i won't vote for him. Even more so since transparency is the first word that turns up on his site.

    Likewise the issue isn't the quantity of police training, it's the content of police training, and of the doctrine on use of violence that lies behind it. The basic doctrine needs changing, and the training with it. His website does seem to reflect something of this nature, a bit less vaguely than most of the rest.

    Further there is a need to move the police away from the paramilitarization created by Mark Kroeker and Vera Katz, and to halt the re-emergence of abusive political targeting of activists. The two sometimes converge -- Aaron Campbell's death might have been avoided if an inappropriate paramilitary sniper set-up had not been in use.

    Finally there is a need to create genuine citizen review with teeth.

    The establishment liberal position is that the basic system is o.k., it just needs some tweaks, just as its position on the houselessness crisis is that things are o.k. enough that it is more important to fine a self-disciplined self-provision of shelter out of existence than to house people, and that it is o.k. to criminalize people for lacking shelter.

    It's not Jefferson Smith's fault that i was naive in hoping he was more different than that unjustifiedly comfortable self-congratulatory political mode than he is. But it's his public positions, not his private words, that matter in that evaluation.

    • (Show?)

      I think the conversation with Jefferson was recommended not because he'd say something different to you, but so you could have a one-on-one discussion and get into the issue. It's often through those one-on-one discussions that people are able to fully understand the other person's side of the issue. I've always gotten my best clarifications by speaking directly to the candidate themselves.

guest column

connect with blueoregon