On better policing

By ANDREW WILKINS

Among volleys of flash-bang grenades and tear gas Tuesday night, Cory Elia, our managing editor, was assaulted by a police officer in downtown Portland.

Cory documenting a protest in August of 2018. Photo by Samuel Gehrke

He’s been covering the protests about police violence and the killing of George Floyd and black folk since their beginning, and protests in Portland for two years. It’s his independent work, partly because I’m not comfortable sending a reporter into often-dangerous Portland protests. Despite it not fitting into Village Portland‘s standard coverage, it’s very important work.

It’s important work because if the police are willing to abuse folks in front of a crowd… what are they willing to do when no one is watching?

***

Every group has its values and culture, and police officers in the United States are being called to transform how they interact with the public, and we must transform how they’re held accountable.

Let’s not forget how difficult it is to be a police officer— being the person expected to parachute into an unknown, chaotic situation with a goal of restoring the peace— but reform has to acknowledge that for many the public’s trust in police to act responsibly has been lost.

***

Cory Elia

Cory described the interaction that took place near SW Yamhill and SW 3rd Avenue on SW 4th Ave between Taylor and Yamhill Streets:

In the cloud of tear gas that was filtering through downtown, Cory said he wasn’t able to see or breathe very well, but was moving in the direction indicated by police as they moved to disperse the crowd.

Even though he identified himself as a journalist, he said a female police officer grabbed him and started shoving him forward. During this, he said he told them that he was a journalist— and they responded that they didn’t care.

After that, he recalled that another officer, a larger male, struck him in his back, sending him crashing head-first into a nearby wall. Tangled in his bike, he said he fell to the ground. As he laid there, he said the male officer kicked him away from their line.

Afterwards, another indie journalist helped him up, and they left together.

Video of the encounter:

You can see Cory on camera with his bike early in the video above, and then him being accosted by police officers on the left side of the screen.

There’s video evidence of many examples, but I still have to wonder how many times across this nation that a violent interaction like this has been perpetrated by the police over the course of these protests. It’s casual brutality towards citizens; a doubling down of the attitude and actions that have moved so many Americans to take to the streets in defiance.

We’re gathering more evidence— and a lawsuit is planned— but I can say now with confidence that Portland Police Bureau and all police in the United States should allow and encourage the scrutiny of the free press, and work to ensure a safe environment for all Americans to gather and protest.

The American Civil Liberties Union is also gearing up for legal action due to police targeting the media.

All this seems like common sense, but apparently it needs to be said. 

Earlier in the night of June 2nd, thousands gather peacefully at Pioneer Square in downtown Portland. Photo by Cory Elia

Tens of thousands of people have been able to peacefully demand better policing and mourn black Americans lost to police violence— but what happens at the end of the night? We should be able to trust that police can distinguish between bad actors and the rest of the crowd.

I believe we should expect civility from all involved, but a well-armed, and well-funded should be held to a much higher standard. And I, and many other Portlanders, believe the Portland Police Bureau have failed to meet that mark. 

Many reported that Portland Police were more restrained on the next night, Wednesday, June 2nd. But the night Cory was assaulted, as you can see in the first video and the one below, Portland Police went wild with the tear gas and rubber bullets.

***

If used at all, violence and shock-and-awe weaponry should be an absolute last resort for police— because they are dangerous, frighten many people from even attempting to come out and express their constitutional rights, and violate what should be essential values of police officers: de-escalation and peacekeeping. 

It’s going to take a lot of work for Portland police to rebuild the community’s trust in them. Many think that’s not even possible, and want to start over from scratch. 

But when I see the calm concern and determination on the faces of the tens of thousand of folks marching peacefully, I know that they want better— and believe that better policing is possible. “Protect and serve”, or PPB’s more lavishly-phrased version, seems like such a simple mission, but also so far from where we are now.

Here in Portland, we have a huge opportunity to improve police oversight with the negotiation of a new police union contract, but it seems Portland City Council are pushing back that timeline due to the pandemic

I think we’re missing an opportunity to turn the current outpouring of support for improved police oversight. The time for change is now; people have adjusted to virtual participation and want change now.

Differences in the approach to better policing aside, it’s probably not be within the skillset of folks horrified by the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Brianna Taylor— and countless others who have been wronged by failures of policing— to fix the problem. But the marchers instinctively know that something is wrong and they deserve better.

***

Cory visited the emergency room yesterday, the day after the incident, and the doctor said he’s going to be okay. The x-ray showed that his ribs aren’t broken. And after one night of rest, he’ll be back out reporting again tonight on Thursday, June 4th.

***

I wish I could watch all the speakers from the nights of gatherings, to absorb all the wisdom and experience gleaned from decades of engagement and advocacy by Portland’s black community… but the revolution won’t likely be on social media.

Not everyone can attend a protest, and real change will come in people’s hearts and the wonky details of law and policy. So within that range of opportunities, I encourage you to find your own way to get help make change happen.

Shared by KBOO, here are a few minutes from the speakers at Wednesday, June 4th’s gathering in Portland.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s