[guest post by Dana]
Yesterday, Red Nation Rising posted a plea made on behalf of rioters everywhere:
Antifa and BLM are begging people to stop posting videos and pictures of riots because they're getting arrested 😂 🤣 pic.twitter.com/4VRgKLHMYo
— Red Nation Rising (@RedNationRising) August 4, 2020
While these nationwide rallies began as righteous and peaceful protests, the young person in the video concedes and confirms, however unwittingly, that devolution has occurred: riots, not mere protests. This, of course, leads to the obvious: if you don’t want to get arrested, don’t destroy public property or commit acts of violence. [Ed. I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will: this does not excuse the bad behavior by some law enforcement officers or relieve of accountability those whose abusive acts have been captured on video. It is possible to hold more than one thought in our heads at the same time: we can be concerned about the destruction and violence wrought by individuals in various cities, we can be concerned about the overreach of the federal government, and we can be concerned about the abuses of law enforcement on the ground. This post does seek to prioritize the concerns, just address one of them.]
With that, Portland’s Chuck Lovell makes, not so much a plea as a reaffirmation of committment to the people of Portland. As a black man who just happens to be the city’s Chief of Police, he sets the stage beginning with the killing of George Floyd to the eventual attack on the Justice Center:
After the horrendous killing of George Floyd, people in Portland, Ore., joined with thousands across the country in demonstrations to address police reform and widespread systemic racism. The leaders of the Portland Police Bureau denounced this tragic death, and we reiterated our willingness to engage in reforms.
But Portland has now faced weeks of extreme difficulties and drew intense national attention after federal officers were deployed here.
As police officers, our duty is to uphold the rights of anyone to assemble peacefully and engage in free speech. But over the months of protests, a concerning dynamic developed. People protested peacefully, while others engaged in dangerous activities that could have resulted in injury and even death.
After hours of largely peaceful demonstrations in Portland, Ore., following the killing of George Floyd, violence erupted on Friday, May 29.
The night of May 29 was a pivotal moment for our city. Hundreds of people, in a coordinated effort, attacked the Justice Center, which includes our Central Precinct station and the Multnomah County Detention Center. They broke into the building, destroyed the first-floor interior and lit fires. Afterward, there was looting and destruction downtown.
Yet in the following weeks, thousands of people demonstrated peacefully in an awesome expression of First Amendment rights. The Police Bureau had little to no interaction with members of this group, because they did not allow criminal activity to implode their message.
Lovell helps us understand his perspective, and what he has faced in the past few weeks:
As a Black man and a public servant, I have a unique perspective. I agree with a local pastor, E.D. Mondainé, who stated these “spectacles” are drowning out the voices that need to be heard to make positive change. This violence is doing nothing to further the Black Lives Matter movement.
On one night, for example, individuals screwed the doors of our North Precinct station shut, barricaded other entrances and lit the station on fire with people inside. Nearby businesses, owned by people of color, were damaged and looted. On other nights, there were multiple attempts to breach the Justice Center. Other law enforcement facilities were targeted, including the union building, which was broken into and had fires set within.
And as with everything life, if one does not have foresight, and consider the unintended consequences, the very people in immediate need are the ones who will inevitably be hurt:
The voices of victims are not heard as well. Because of the protests, officers have not been able to respond to 911 calls or have been delayed for hours. Investigators’ cases lie on their desks as they work nights to process arrests. We have seen an alarming increase in shootings and homicides. We need to redirect our focus to preventing and solving these crimes that are taking a hugely disproportionate number of minority lives.
In spite of everything that is going on, Lovell remains optimistic and as committed as ever to protecting Americans:
I have said frequently that the Portland Police Bureau is committed to reform. We are a progressive agency and have demonstrated our willingness to change over the past eight years. Working with the Department of Justice, we have made significant changes to our policies and training. The Portland Police Bureau’s policy on the use of deadly force is more restrictive than state and federal law.
We recently enhanced our Community Engagement Unit to help build trust and legitimacy with the communities we serve. We have also developed several advisory councils that help the Police Bureau make decisions with the benefit of a diverse set of inputs.
The Portland Police Bureau has had an equity and inclusion office for over five years. I recently changed the organizational structure to have it report directly to me, to ensure we are prioritizing its work.
I have confidence in our community and the people who have dedicated their lives to building relationships with police. They have stood up and said no more violence. I stand with them with a servant’s heart, committed to being leaders in police reform.
Some people believe you have to tear it all down in a long-overdue reckoning before you can build up an equitable structure giving testimony to real change. Some people believe you can use the existing foundation and build upon it a transformed, stable, and enduring structure. This is the fraught landscape of options upon which we find ourselves standing these days.