Reign of Terror
City officials are unable to reassure us that they can stop the police from killing again.
I apologize for the length, but I have to say all this before it strangles me.
The city is in flames. We can all feel them, just below the surface, licking up from the depths of outrage brought on by yet another senseless police killing. It's been nearly a month since Jason Sery pulled out a loaded gun to "assist" him in a "routine" traffic stop. Nearly a month since he pulled that trigger, cut down another unarmed person of color. It's been a week since he received an award for his "outstanding" service. And only a day since another grand jury allowed another murderer in police uniform to walk free.
I am not calm, so these words might not flow as smoothly as I would like. But I need to say them anyway.
I was sick to my soul to learn of the award granted to Mr. Sery. Sick to my soul. This morning, I began calling "officials" throughout the city. Not because I believed they would have any answers. Not because I thought it would matter if I told them what I think about all this. But because I wanted to know what they would say. What could they possibly, possibly say that could justify the seige this city has been under? Even in their own minds, how could they possibly find the words to try?
It's been an interesting odyssey into the darkness of the human mind. Everyone passes the award off as something unconnected to the PPB. Everyone says it was the American Legion, that the PPB had nothing to do with it. Ah, but they did. They nominated him. They nominated Mr. Sery for this award. A spokesperson for the Mayor (who is, as always, unavailable) reminded me that the nomination was made before the shooting. Asked whether she thought he would have been considered after the shooting, she said, "Logically speaking, I wouldn't think so."
Logically speaking, indeed. But these are not logical times. And this isn't the first time Mr. Sery was involved in an incident like this. Twice now he's had evidence thrown out by a judge because his gung-ho disregard for civil rights rendered his illegal searches inadmissable in court. He has a frightening history of violence, of abuse of his perceived authority, of attacking people of color in the streets. He committed numerous such offenses before even being hired to rough up the streets of Portland. And yet, he was nominated by his superior officers for the top cop award. What does that say about the rest of them?
Asked whether she was aware of the simmering outrage rising in the streets, the mayor's spokesperson replied, "Absolutely." She went on to explain that the Mayor's office is doing what it can to make things right. Specifically, she told me, they are working to implement the recommendations outlined in the PARC report, which was presented to the city last august. (This report, it may be remembered, was an audit on the PPB called for after the last string of police killings. Interestingly, the report failed to consider any of the most recent incidents, concentrating only on the period between 1997 and 2000. This was after Deonte Keller was shot by police in 1996, and before Jose Mejia Poot, Kendra James, Eddie Homsombath, Byron Hammick, or Jahar Perez. For more on the weaknesses of this audit, see www.portlandcopwatch.org/shootingsanalysis.html.)
According to the Mayor's office, there were 44 recommendations made in this report, and "30 something" have been implemented. (In fact, there were 89 recommendations listed in the PARC report.) When I asked for concrete examples of what the mayor will do to stop police violence against the people of this city, she told me they're working on it but, "It takes money." Yes, the appeal to the budget. None of this would be happening if the people of this city would just give them more money. What would they do with this money, I asked. "Well for example," she replied, "The mayor is asking for money to hire more police officers."
...MORE police officers? Yes, more police officers. "...to...to...reassure the public," she added. I told her I didn't find that very reassuring, since the cops we have are shooting us down in the streets. Even she was unable to follow the strained logic any further, so she simply trailed off and referred me to the DA's office. Basically, the mayor's office is unwilling or unable to deal with the rogue police force or the concerns of the community in this matter.
I spoke to the people at Central Precinct this morning as well. Speaking to the PPB is always a trip. While I asked for the Chief's office, I was shunted around between "underlings" for awhile. I spoke to an intern who claimed he knows nothing about this, and finally to Sergeant Cheryl Robinson, Public Information Officer (PIO).
Sergeant Robinson said that she, too, is aware of the anger and the outrage that the police violence has sparked in this city. But she was as unconcerned as the mayor's office about the sensibility of allowing the officer involved to accept the award given to him. She, too, reminded me that he was nominated a few months back, and she added, "He had a life prior to this incident."
Indeed. So did Jahar Perez.
Before I called her, I had taken the time to look over the PARC report. Although lacking in depth and failing to cover any of the killings of the past 4 years, it was nevertheless an interesting read. So I mentioned it to Sergeant Robinson while I had her on the phone. Couldn't this tragedy have been prevented, I asked, if the recommendations outlined in the PARC report had been followed?
Sergeant Robinson vehemently disagreed. She told me the PARC report "didn't deal with tactics," that it "primarily dealt with investigative procedures." For example, she said, it recommended revising certain administrative procedures, among other things. "Nothing at all on tactics?" I asked.
As I happened to have a copy of the report sitting in front of me, I referred her to recommendation 3.5 which states, "The PPB should revise its deadly force policy to clearly articulate when officers may draw or point their firearms and when they should re-holster them." Doesn't that refer to tactics? Officer Robinson cleared her throat and stated that this recommendation is "Still in review."
What about recommendation 3.4? It says, "The PPB should consider whether it would be appropriate to revise its deadly force policy to expressly require officers to refrain from taking actions that unnecessarily lead to the use of deadly force." When confronted with this recommendation, Officer Robisnon responded, "That one is also still in the process of being reviewed." Wouldn't that recommendation, if followed, have prevented the murder of Jahar Perez? Incredibly, Officer Robinson stated, "It only says we should 'consider' it, not that we should do it."
I found several other recommendations that, if followed, could have prevented this killing. Each time I pointed one out, Officer Robinson told me it had not yet been implemented, it was "still in review," or that it's "in the process of being looked at." It seems to me that the recommendations dealing specifically with police use of deadly force should have been the very first to be implemented. Apparently, none of them were. Could not the administrative issues have waited? Wouldn't Jahar Perez still be alive if they had simply followed the more important, "tactical" recommendations first?
Officer Robinson said it was only speculation that it might have made a difference. And, as she repeatedly told me, she refused to speculate.
She then told me that, "Nobody in the bureau wants to take another life."
Pardon me, Officer Robinson, but that sounds like pure speculation to me.
Both the PPB and the Mayor's office issued statements that the grand jury was "only the beginning" of the process, both assured me that everything will be fine if we just "allow the system to work." Both pointed out that there is still a public inquest and an internal investigation into the matter. But when asked whether Mr. Sery will face any charges, Officer Robinson conceded that he will not, that he was cleared by the grand jury. The inquest, then, is nothing more than window dressing. It will have no teeth. There will be no justice, just as there was no justice for Deonte Keller, no justice for Kendra James, no justice for Amadu Diallo, no justice for anyone brutalized by the police.
The system won't work. It doesn't work. It's not even designed to work. It's only there to appease us while it grinds us down. As I said at the beginning of this long article, I am not calm and my words might be shaky. But I don't feel like choosing them carefully anymore. Even the "authorities" are making no sense now, and not even pretending anymore that any of this makes sense. The illusion is gone, only the sharp instruments of our oppression are visible now.
Protect yourselves, my comrades. I've got your back, do you have mine?
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