Chief Mark Kroeker Has Got To Go
CHIEF MARK KROEKER HAS GOT TO GO
A week after the Portland Police Bureau honored two officers involved in the fatal shooting last year of a mentally ill Mexican immigrant, Latino and African American civic leaders have followed the lead of local activists in demanding that Chief Mark Kroeker resign. Kroeker said Monday that he didn't mean to offend the Hispanic community by awarding the medals, and that his actions were misunderstood. However, he said, "I would give the award again, but do a better job of communicating (the intention). Clara Padilla Andrews, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said that was not enough. "How many times does our city have to endure apology after apology before finally, we can all say that it is time for a change?" Multnomah County Commissioner Serena Cruz, who initially asked the community to work with Kroeker after the April 2001 shooting, said, "I was wrong. It is time for us to call for this resignation." Martha Ortiz de Rosas, Mexican consulate general for Oregon, said the consul wasn't in a position to ask for Kroeker's resignation, but was upset by his decision. "We want a public apology and for Kroeker to take back the medals," she said.
About 300 people marched to city hall Tuesday, where they presented a letter to mayor's office demanding Kroeker's resignation. The group carried signs that said "Death Squad Commander" beside Kroeker's photograph and, "Mayor Katz, fire Kroeker before he fires on us again." Martin Gonzalez of Latino Network, one of the largest Hispanic organizing group in Portland asked, "How could Kroeker claim that police did nothing wrong?" We were wrong not to ask for Chief Kroeker's resignation a year ago." After presenting the letter to the mayor's office, protesters marched to the Portland Police Bureau to present a facetious award to Kroeker called "The Silver Dimes Award." The name refers to when Mejia Poot was first taken into custody by police. A bus driver asked Mejia Poot to get off because he was 20 cents short of the fare. When Mejia Poot refused -- or misunderstood, because he didn't speak English -- police were called.
A grand jury cleared officers Jeffrey M. Bell and
Christopher A. Davis after the shooting, which occurred in April of 2001 at a psychiatric hospital where the 29-year-old Mexican national was being detained. State investigators later found doctors had misdiagnosed Mejia with schizophrenia and that he was suffering uncontrolled epileptic seizures when he advanced on officers, wielding a metal bar. The incident caused an uproar among Hispanics and civil rights leaders, prompting protests against Portland police and scrutiny of the psychiatric hospital's operating practices. The hospital eventually closed. Then on Nov. 19, the Chief awarded Bell and Davis the Police Medal for "selflessness, personal courage and devotion to duty" in connection with the shooting.
"It seems like the death of my brother only served as awards for police," said Carlos Mejia Poot, the victim's brother, in a prepared statement Tuesday.
It is not the first time Kroeker has faced calls for his resignation or has had to apologize to minority groups he has offended. In 2000, he publicly apologized for disparaging remarks he made about gays and women in the 1980s. Kroeker called homosexuality a "perversion" and said AIDS would claim millions of victims because society decided that "certain kinds of morality was not the affair of the state." He added for good measure, "On this terrible issue of homosexuality, the other clear evidence in our society shows that, as we have moved away from control of certain criminal activities, the result has become a disaster." To women he advised, "If you haven't figured out how to be a submissive wife...then [kids are] going to be confused in the way they approach their lives." Many women and gay activists called on Mayor Vera Katz to fire Kroeker at the time, but she declined.
Kroeker, along with Mayor Katz is named in a law suit filed last month in U.S. District Court. That suit followed a demonstration during a visit by President Bush in which protesters were shot with rubber bullets and sprayed with pepper gas by Portland police. The lawsuit seeks monetary damages for pain and suffering and for violation of First Amendment rights, an order establishing a civilian police-review board, and a cease-and-desist order banning the use of the spray and rubber bullets at peaceful gatherings
Sources: KOIN (Portland), Eugene Register-Guard, KPTV (Portland), Portland Oregonian, Willamette Week, Seattle Times, Portland Copwatch
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