Praying For Change With Portland's Police

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 ChuckCurrie.com and the Huffington Post.

The shooting of a patient at Portland Adventist Hospital by members of the Portland Police Bureau, a shooting that cost the patient his life, deserves a careful review. Portland police may have been 100% justified in their actions but Portlanders have every reason to be suspicious of a bureau in constant chaos.

All Portlanders want a city that is safe. That means we want members of the Police Bureau, most of whom are honorable and committed public servants, to be able to conduct their responsibilities in ways that are safe, transparent, were people are held accountable for mistakes, and lifted up for noble service. Right now our system is broken.

The U.S. Department of Justice has determined that the Portland Police Bureau has engaged in a pattern that violates the civil rights of Portlanders suffering from mental illness. Many, including the Albina Ministerial Alliance, don’t believe the DOJ went far enough in their conclusions. More concerning is that the Portland Police Association, the union which represents the police, dismisses the central conclusions of the DOJ’s findings – instead of acknowledging the obvious – and has gone to court to fight changes that the DOJ is demanding of the city regarding the use of force by police.

At the same time, the union continues to defend Officer Ronald Frashour, who killed Aaron Campbell, an unarmed man. Portland’s Police Review Board unanimously, and appropriately, said Frashour violated policy and called for his firing.

How can all Portlanders fell safe when the Portland Police Association fights against upholding the civil rights of all? The union creates a breach between the police and public that causes people to mistrust sworn officers. It will take those very officers, some of whom strongly disagree with their union, to stand up and give voice to a better and more effective way of policing that restores trust.

Compounding these problems are the actions of Chief Mike Reese. He also disagrees with the DOJ’s central finding but at least he has worked to bring some reforms to the bureau. That isn’t enough, however. In the midst of crisis after crisis in his bureau how can the city trust a chief who continues to promote officers guilty of misconduct not tolerated in most places of employment? Reese even moved Lt. Todd Wyatt into a position where he’d have daily contact with a woman under his supervision that had complained of harassment. At first, the chief saw no problem with the arrangement until a public outcry. This is the same chief who once said that critics don’t matter. In a democracy, the reverse is true.

The new film “Alien Boy” about the life of James Chasse has just been released. I was one of the clergy who conducted his memorial after members of the Portland Police Bureau killed him. From my perspective as a member of the clergy, we face issues in Portland that intersect with race, mental illness, accountability, leadership, and spirituality. We’re too polarized and we don’t do enough to help those in need. We deserve as city that is better than the one we have. For any real change to emerge, however, it will take bold leadership from City Hall and a transformation of thinking within the Portland Police Association. That’s something for us all to pray for.

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