Local Officials/Corporate Press Jeopardize Public Safety
As a result of the continuing lag in the economy and mismanagement of funds by city officials, Portland will face another round of public services. The Portland Police and Fire Safety budget will have to be cut by an additional $4 million, according to a recent local TV news report. During a period when local officials have recently released scores of inmates, which officials blame on budget shortfalls, large amounts of resources continue to be needlessly wasted.
Not long ago, Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto claimed that an additional 300-500 inmates would have to be released from prison if his department did not receive additional funds. However, during the recent demonstrations protesting the unjustified and illegal war on Iraq waged by former Texas Governor George W. Bush, Giusto claimed to have unlimited jail space for the protestors. Under the supervision of Police Chief Mark Kroeker, the City spent more than $1 million in overtime pay in an effort to intimidate local citizens away from exercising their constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech and assembly. Portland Mayor Vera Katz unflinchingly supported the aggressive repression of dissent, even as she received a steady stream of reports of police violence and abuse. The District Attorney appears determined to squander more resources to prosecute citizens on mostly bogus charges, in an already overburdened court system.
Along with their reputation for rude and unprofessional behavior, many Portland Police officers have a long history of using excessive force while dealing with the public. Provocation is a common police tactic used in an effort to provide justification for attacking non-violent demonstrators. When this tactic fails, as it generally does, they simply attack people outright. The Mayday celebration a couple of years back, and the August 22, 2002 visit by former Texas Governor, George W. Bush are poignant examples of this.
During the Bush visit, the police became nervous about the number of people that were showing up to display their disgust. They decided to deploy chemical weapons on the demonstrators in an effort to disperse them, in at least one case pepper-spraying an infant, and in another pepper-spraying a local corporate journalist. Widespread police violence has been directed against the monthly Critical Mass bike ride for some time, including chemical weapons, taser guns, and hands-on physical attacks. Portland Police also frequently assault cyclists by driving into them with motorcycles. Often these motorcycles are driven at 20-30 miles per hour along Portland sidewalks putting pedestrians and bystanders at grave risk.
This violent police behavior appears to have gotten worse in recent months. In light of the numerous lawsuits stemming from the recent police abuse, why isn't the situation improving? There are several factors contributing to this. City officials, led by Mayor Vera Katz, have consistently favored the protection of the local business community over the protection of average citizens. Katz supports massive anti-free-market tax subsidies and favors to organizations like OHSU. She strongly supported the failed revival of Civic Stadium, and now supports a massive public loan to attract big league baseball to Portland. Even after the recent Water Bureau billing disaster, she supports wasting millions more to cover the historic reservoirs of Portland, in order to provide questionable protection against an imaginary threat. She has shown blatant contempt for non-business related public opinion, and fought to militarize the police force by endorsing the Orwellian Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force. Katz has also worked hard to insure that the independent police conduct review mechanism remains ineffective.
Police Chief Mark Kroeker probably deserves the lion's share of the credit for Portland Police violence, however. After his experience as a key player in the notoriously corrupt Los Angeles Police Department, he took what he had learned and brought it to Portland. Under his leadership, the Portland Police have demonstrated a gross lack of training in conflict resolution. Kroeker appears to endorse overwhelming force and preemptive police aggression. He even went as far as to decorate the officer who is responsible for the murder of Jose Mejia Poot. Since his officers are routinely encouraged to deploy weapons against peaceful non-resisting demonstrators, it is not surprising that they use deadly force when dealing with a more hectic situation, such as in the case of the police murder of an unarmed woman earlier this week.
The March 2003 anti-war demonstrations marked a noticeable ratcheting up of police abuse. After being ridiculously outmaneuvered, the police eventually moved violently against the demonstrators and attempted to teach them a lesson. The Portland Police deployed several types of weapons, and many of the overwhelmingly non-violent demonstrators were held in jail for long periods without access to bathrooms or water, and while unnecessarily restrained in nerve damaging wrist restraints. The local press continued to focus on the tiny fraction of demonstrators that were involved in more aggressive forms of resistance, in an effort to demonize the entire group and provide justification for the shameful police behavior. In one case, a local television news team was denied their constitutionally protected press freedom as an officer pounded on the side of their news van with his nightstick and demanded that they leave.
The local press has been crucial in maintaining the police repression by falsely painting the protestors as violent troublemakers, while systematically ignoring police abuses. In the days following the start of the war, officers of the Portland Police Bureau began to violently arrest people for ridiculously minor offenses such as jaywalking, and in many cases even fabricated charges against people who were not committing any offense whatsoever. In this environment, the local press consistently and dutifully supported the escalating police repression, even as one of their own colleagues fell victim to a violent police takedown- allegedly for touching the bicycle of a police officer.
Even prior to these events, many of the Portland Police officers have displayed their inability to understand and follow the law, much less enforce it. Many police cruisers as well as other motorists routinely fail to use turn signals, stop prior to entering intersections when required, respect the speed limit, or yield to pedestrians. Many local police officers clearly favor the imagined rights of the motorist over the actual rights of pedestrians and cyclists.
Additional Portland Police budget cuts could prove to be a blessing. The city could take this opportunity to eliminate expensive, ill advised, and dangerous programs such as mounted police and the PJTTF (Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force). They could purge dangerous and unprofessional officers from the ranks, such as Officer Kruger and Officer Rowley. Finally, the Portland Police would be far better off without Chief Kroeker. His incompetence is unmistakable, and his salary would be much better spent shoring up the budget shortfalls of the city, or providing conflict resolution and/or motor vehicular law enforcement training to the many valuable members on the force. No leadership at all would undoubtedly be and improvement over his.
As for Vera Katz, she could go a long way towards regaining some respect if she were to publicly apologize for her gross mismanagement, mean spirited leadership, and anti-public policies, and donate her salary to the city fund.
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