portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reporting portland metro

neighborhood news | police / legal

Police Harassment on the Transit Mall

On my way to work this morning, I happened upon an all-too-familiar scene. Packs of white police officers hounding black men along the bus stops. Here's what I saw.
On the corner of SW 5th and Oak, three police cars and numerous white male police officers had one black man in handcuffs, and were stuffing him into a squad car when I walked by. People all along the street, waiting for their buses, watched impassively from the curb. The man being folded into the police car met my eyes with an expression of resignation. He was used to this, I imagine. A black man in a white world.

Just down 5th street, toward Burnside, I saw another squad car, door hurridly swung open, stopped along the curb. It's occupant, another white police officer, had his hands on another black person, apparently a teenager. (Although I was a ways away, so he might have been older, but he looked like just a kid to me.) The cop had his hands on the boy's arm, and as I watched, he leaned down and pulled up the boy's cuffs and began pawing around his socks, as if searching for some reason to be standing there harassing him like that. He did not appear to find anything there.

While I watched that, the doors slammed shut on the police car near me, with the first man inside. I noticed that the officers involved all had blue rubber gloves on their hands, which I see a lot down here. I don't see it up in NW, at least not unless they're responding to a call regarding a homeless person. It's like they can't even bring themselves to touch "these people" unless it's with a weapon.

I don't know what happened to the man they took away, or to the other person. To my shame, I did no more than the impassive bystanders all around us. I stood and stared, I muttered a comment at no one in particular about my lack of surprise to see so many white cops aggressively putting hands on one white man, and then I walked away. I went to work, out of habit, because I did not know what else to do. After I walked away, I thought my culpability in this. I thought about the unmasked racism lately, in a world where national guard troops were dispatched to protect rich people's cars instead of black people's lives, and about my own part in it all. Because I did not stand there and demand accountability. I did not ask why the officers were detaining the people, where they were taking them, or why so many of their victims are people of color. I did not even wait long enough to make sure no one was shot, which in this city, is almost inexcusable. Yes, I may have gone to jail too, if I had spoken out. But it might be better to be Thoreau's "one honest [wo]man" than to have walked away and done nothing.

Put Them On Notice 16.Sep.2005 14:13

Den Mark, Vancouver

We must put cops on notice that their behavior is very very very definitely our business. Keep your distance, observe, report. And when necessary, march! I remind again, that recently in India protesters were beaten by cops. The next day, women went up to the cops & chased them & beat them. Of course, if we did that here, we'd be killed, but we must act, & not passively allow demons to scare us. We are the state, not the cops, not the politicians, not the parties, not the corporations. WE are the state!

cop focus 16.Sep.2005 15:55


My business takes me by SW 5th and Oak at all hours. I have seen an unbelievable amount of illegal and dangerous activity. I have been "spare changed" by people who did not intend to take no for an answer (until I physically challenged them). (Yes, I give money all the time--to nonviolent people.) I have watched a group of five large, athletic-looking men go through a purse, in broad daylight (Sunday morning), laughing and scattering the contents. These men shouted insults at me from across the street.

Pimps strut through the area, towing cowed and raped women whom they sell to passing sleazebags. Various jerks can be seen offering hideously debilitating drugs. And all of this takes place under the lenses of numerous police-department-monitored cameras!

It's clear to me that the cops disproportionately suspect Blacks--any person of color walking through there is likely to be jacked up, and the White drug sellers are by and large getting away with it, except when the Bloods stomp them for encroaching on the territory.

My point is: the cops are unfair to Blacks, particularly in that zone--and on the other hand, the vast majority of the pimping, selling, and robbing there seems to be done by Black men. Is that an excuse for the cops' racism? --Of course not; but if I were Black and engaging in that sort of activity, I'd find another venue.

And I'd be OK with the pimps getting busted hard, every damn day.

??? 16.Sep.2005 18:36


Observer, what planet are you on? Because I too find myself on SW 5th and Oak "at all hours." Strangely enough, though, I don't see a lot of pimping, raping, or pillaging by black men going on. I do, however, see a lot of cops standing with legs wide apart and arms crossed across their chests, while their comrades shake down black men and rifle through their belongings. All this goes on beneath the dull, glazed faces of the suited and coiffed clientele of the Bancorp building, as they go on about their consumer lives.

As for your "hideously debilitating drugs," again, I am in that area all the time, and I have never been offered any hideously debilitating drugs, particularly not by any black men. I have, though, seen lots of white passers by permanently lulled into quiet disconnection by unprescribed prozac, xanax, and vicoden. And for what it's worth, I have occasionally been offered such fruits from the purses of receptionists and housewives who can't face their own desperation without these things. I guess, though, that the foibles of middle class white people aren't as serious as those of poor black people, because no one shakes them down for their transgressions.

As for being "spare changed," my heart bleeds. I know what you mean. I actually had a homeless person ask me for a quarter just today. Why, the nerve.

flashbacks on sw 5th and oak??? 16.Sep.2005 21:38

red suspenders

I'm thinking "Cop Focus" is having a flashback to 15 or 20 years back when portland was a bit more like a real city... The real crime on the bus mall today is that triment wants to stiff us ordinary knuckledraggers out of another nickel and dime every time we get on their loser limos.

As a taxpayer it ticks me off that it takes six cops to detain one or two punky kids.

And to me the blue gloves signify someone who is such a self absorbed coward as to be afraid to touch a fellow human being. dont you guys all have your hepatitis vaccinations?

The night stick and 38 of the past has been replaced by fancy 15 shot automatic pistols, and enough modern toys and nylon crap to fill up a GI Joes and a Radio Shack. I can think of a couple reasons-

#1, in the age of videocameras they cant just wade in and give us the beating they feel we deserve, and they think that by looking as intimidating as possible they can make up for this somehow. (I'm almost sure this is the reason for the riot gear)

#2, they are cowards, watch too much TV, and are afraid of thier own shadow.

I know theres good police officers out there who would like to ditch the fancy toys and psuedo-military cloths and wear a blue shirt and shiny badge with pride. A little respect gained from the community and also thier "clients" ought to serve them better than any fancy toys

Another 16.Sep.2005 22:53


I commute downtown and have been on the bus mall daily for the last ten years. There are times I feel I know every drug dealer and their MO on it. Anyone who pays attention can watch the patterns and daily fluctuations. Sometimes on the SW side, sometime son the NW, sometimes on Burnside. Many of the dealers know me too, they don't ask me to buy anything because I always say no. I've also been aggressively panhandled and no amount of rationalizing will make me think someone should be rude and threatening when asking me for help.

Catwoman, your defensive response is beneath your usual well thought out postings. Like Observer, I absolutely have seen women being dragged along by hard faced men and I've seen firsthand- in my job in social work - the effects of some of the drugs (meth, for example) and street life on people, particularly women. The fact that non-street people use drugs and don't give a shit doesn't alter the realities of being homeless in Portland.

The farce of the war on drugs is very evident. The cops ignore 99% of drug activity because the courts and jails are full of petty offenders and "security conscious people" don't want to pay more taxes. It's all a ruse for political posturing and channeling tax payer funds. If illicit soft drugs were legal and taxed, our schools would be well funded. When the cops do crack down it's because the businesses are starting to complain.

Still another 17.Sep.2005 07:08


Well, I have lived in Portland since the 1980s, and I travel mostly by bus. I lived in NW before it gentrified, and moved out when all my friends were forced out by high rent and all my neighbors became shallow yuppies. But even now, I am on SW 5th and Oak almost all the time -- I work near the bancorp building. And what I see is police officers cruising around until they see black men, and then stopping to harass them. I watch it all the time. I can't even count how many times I've been standing in a bus shelter and had some cop (or usually a gaggle of them) rush in to nab the black guy sitting on the bench. They haul him out, turn out his pockets, say some sarcastic things to him, nod around at us "good citizens" as if we were on their side, and then either cart the black guy away or else write him a lot of tickets and turn him on his way.

I have never seen pimping or prostitution down there, which doesn't mean it's not there, it only means it's not a problem. Same with drug dealers. I have never been offered "hideous drugs" either. Again, that's not to say it's not down there, everyone knows you can go to old town if you want a fix. But they're not leaping out of dark alleys pushing it at me, or at anyone else. People who want them can get them, people who don't want them can freely ignore them. No, no one is foisting "hideous drugs" at anyone else.

As for agressive pandhandling, please. Give me a break. If you don't want to give someone a dollar, just fucking say so. What's wrong with you? Do you think you have such a right to everything in the world that no one else can possibly even have the right to ASK for anything from you? Fucking Americans. Greedy, self absorbed, and rotten to the core.

I am occasionally asked for money down there, and other places in Portland. And when I have something to share, I do. Why not? I make enough to spare, and other people don't. When I was hungry once, I had a "panhandler" give me enough money to get home once. So now that I have enough, why shouldn't I give a dollar or two to someone who asks? Mutual aid. When I do not have anything to give, I say so. :Sorry, man, I don't have anything to spare today." And they go away. "Aggressive"? Why? Because you're uncomfortable having to say "no" when you clearly have more than you need? That's your problem. Homeless people have as much right to be in this city as well off people, and black people have as much right as white people. No excuses.

complain, videotape, then sue 17.Sep.2005 11:55


Observing, reporting, and reflecting are good, but not good enough if you want to change things.

Here is what needs to be done. We have observed a pattern: racist and classist enforcement of the laws. We observe, but next we must buy ourselves a video camera. Our Northwest Center gave a grant of $3000 to Portland Indymedia to record such events six months ago, but we have yet to hear about any use of these cameras for the purposes of the grant. What's up?

We need many of us to have cameras with us to record these events reported. Then I suggest the film should be turned over to the NW Center (www.nwcrc.org). If we get enough file that shows a continuing pattern of constitutional violations, we file a law suit. The videos have shown to be persuasive evidence that results in large money settlements. The city pays the money, Tom Potter gets pissed off and tells da Fox that he better real his boys in because the city can't afford any more settlements like this. That's why the cops have backed it way off for most protests--they don't want to pay up again.

Simple and proven formuala.

Lets do it.

Alan Graf
Northwest Constitutional Rights Center

1020 SW Taylor St., Ste. 449, Portland Oregon 97205

harrassment on the mall has its own self perpetuating cycle 17.Sep.2005 12:51


Downtown is an interesting place, for sure. I'd say all the most extreme things "observer" and "commuter(1) say they've seen, aren't happening every minute, or hour on the hour, but you do see that crap.

Who does downtown belong to? Businessmen built the businesses, but working people paid taxes to build the infrastructure, roads, sewer, electical, communications, water accessability, so you'd think it'd be a logical conclusion that it belongs to both rich and poor people. You wouldn't know it from the kind of comments the business community makes public from time to time.

I never could figure how people dressed better, physically more able, obviously of means, and who most likely imagine themselves more intelligent, well bred, mannered, and compassionate, could consistently walk by someone of meager means, and react to a polite request for spare change with not so much as a smile or a nod of the head. Amongst the former category in fact, are those who exercise a particularly vindictive pleasure in being outright rude and contemptuous to those of meager means in a way they should consider beneath themselves. There's no excuse for this.

Maybe someout out there has the guts to raise that point in a future meeting of The City Club.

We can expect this general situation for a while to come. People here do not have a right to employment. The public doesn't want to provide for people who can't work unless the chore of going around them on the sidewalk drives them to the point where they open their wallets just to warehouse them somewhere.

Once these people have been warehoused on SSI and SSD, is there enough for them to do? Probably not, though some might do volunteer work. Some sit around and go nuts. Maybe some of them get into trouble, helping to perpetuate all the problems people posting here have brought up. Those that might be able to work are scared to do so because they immediately lose the security of the SSI/SSD. They don't think they can improve their lives by working, so there's no incentive to do so.

There's probably a lot of idle people on disability that want, and could do something if a job was created to meet their abilities rather than vice versa, and it could be demonstrated that it offered the opportunity to improve their situation and not threaten their stability. Probably would cost a bunch of money but the community might be healthier.

It's kind of bad when it seems as though only black guys are being rousted downtown, but they aren't being hauled off or given a bunch of tickets for nothing. Why do you think they bust them? Because they've been caught elsewhere before, and told to stay the hell out of dodge...but no, they have to hang out, show off, make threats, flash guns. Good riddance. Maybe certain people of other skin colors need a little more of their share of the same treatment.

Minorities have a built in disability from birth, so no consideration in their behalf is mis-spent. Our current societal mentality guarantees that certain people of color will become ganstas, dealers, junkies and pimps, some of the very creeps no one really needs anywhere.

Everybody downtown should be able to observe simple conventions of courtesy and consideration for each other over a wide range of activities. There are homeless people, junkies, working girls and pimps that have courtesy manners, and consideration for others far exceeding that of many well provided for businessmen, tourists and others frequenting downtown.

So-called "Aggressive" Panhandling 17.Sep.2005 13:18


I used to be one of those dirty teenagers asking for change. I never was agressive, but I knew people who were(if you could even call it agressive. You'd have to be one hell of a sheltered pansy ass to think so).
Often the inspiration for it was the appearance of the person saying no. It's hard to believe someone who's wearing a $50 outfit and $100 shoes say they have no money to spare. You think to yourself all the money these people make and they can't even spare a paultry amount of pocket change that does nothing for them besides offend their ears as it jingles in their greedy little pockets. Classism often doesn't get more obvious than that. In that situation, the suit might as well call you a worthless piece of trash because that's what their action said.
So yeah, it pisses people off and offends them when you wear your stupid suit(or dress for that matter) showing off the cushy job you got and are not willing to spare some change. The system is not equal enough for everyone to have the nice job you've got or to make the money you have. Often the money that your company or government is making(that pays you) has come from the exploiting of my peers' and my labor. So really when you hand out your pocket change you're really just paying us back what was unfairly took in the first place. Even as poor as I still am I understand this and give whatever I can possibly spare without hanging myself.

I haven't noticed much crime at all on the bus mall.... 17.Sep.2005 17:40

Scotty B.

I ride to the bus mall about twice every day, and on many of those occasions I end up at SW 5th and Oak. Other than a lot of people that are *on* drugs, I haven't noticed many people around that seem to be drug dealers or pimps. I do occasionally see panhandlers, who never ask me for money (they must be able to sense the fact that I don't exactly have a lot of money ethier?).

Frankly, downtown Portland and the bus mall seem just as nice to me as the neighborhood I live in...which...err..isn't exactly "nice" per se, but it's suitable for me.

So I guess the point of this is - I don't think that the area near SW 5th or SW 6th is exactly crime-infested. And if police officers are arresting a disproportionate amount of people there, then it's probably more likely due to a...overly enthused prescence of police than due to a massive amount of crime. And the orginal posting, about seeing white police officers arresting two black men at the same time along the same street, is rather disturbing - given the not-so-clean record of the PPD. We should all try to be aware of police oppression, and it seems silly to try to dismiss occurances like this one by saying it's a "bad neighborhood".

Huh? 17.Sep.2005 20:12

Den Mark, Vancouver

A few comments back, somebody wrote something like "minorities are born with built-in disability". I think i know what the writer intended, but it didn't come out right. Everybody's a minority in some way, depending on how the context is defined. Being born as a minority is never a disability. The disability belongs to the disabler, who's cursed with inability to recognize the humanity of everybody else. Unfortunately, the disabler's own disability is cause of terrible pain in the world.

totolatarian police state 17.Sep.2005 20:37

karl roenfanz ( rosey ) k_rosey48@hotmail.com

unfortunatly the police state has extended over the whole united states, in evansville, in. you may get beaten if you don't bow and katow to the police regardless how they treat you, they will beat you and break your arms if you use the same language they do. we have cameras in the police cars, but the cameras only point forwards, so the cops take you behind the police car then claim resisting arrest. if you can't afford a lawyer you will have jail time coming, a pity if you need regular medication for a condition, you won't get it,but thats life under heil bush!

they who get rousted downtown 18.Sep.2005 04:03


What does Matilda, the writer of this article say in the second paragraph?:

"The man being folded into the police car met my eyes with an expression of resignation. He was used to this, I imagine".

Now why does everybody think that might be the case? Well, it could be a case of "existing while black", or, that the person being busted has been busted many times before. Of course, this country and this city has a notorious history of victimizing people of color. Profiling, driving while black, and the like, most relevant here perhaps. The specific nature of what's going on downtown though amongst those being rousted by the cops, likely has to do with those that are present there for the purpose of committing crimes and are in the process of, or intending to commit crimes.

The cops have been present downtown in force lately specifically because of the shootings outside clubs. That's my conclusion. The people getting busted, do so, because all the cops have to do, is drive around looking for the faces of people they've busted recently and issued exclusions from drug-free zones to. I could be wrong, but I thought the drug free zone exclusion thing was still in effect. Portland's downtown isn't that big. You don't think cops have better things to do then drive around downtown, harrassing people of color for the fun of it, where hundreds of critical eyes can see them? This gangster nonsense downtown has probably taken officers away from other parts of town where they're really needed.

There's been times in the past when there hasn't been that much cop activity downtown unless they got a call. There's bigger fish to fry in portland. If things actually are generally ship-shape downtown, and cops are in fact randomly harrassing people of color, then it should be worth the effort to prove it.

Get people out on the street with those cameras. Nothing better than citizen involvement. Cops can be really professional when a zoom lens is zeroed in on them. Long range listening microphones could be helpful too.

Bad Crime? 18.Sep.2005 14:47


Here's what I observe downtown and all along the waterfront...

*I see the pimps, usually with some white burnout tweaker hag behind him...

*I see the street kids, in their faded black clothes, noserings and tattoos, usually dosed up on 'nax, asking me for a dollar I don't have...

*I see the haggard bum, feeding a habit of booze thats consuming him like a cancer...

*I see the hoodlum black kids, trying to sell me severly pinched sacks of weed, crack, and tweak...(sorry, dude--only smoke 'erb, and know better dealers!)

*I see the frat-boyish, pitiful High School Football Jock cops strongarming the pimp, the street kid, the hoodlum, the drunk, and any rumpled-looking black man that's walking the streets because he's not shit-shaved-and showered, like how all the uppity honkeys who gentrified NW would like their "House Niggers." Pathetic--this fucking town calls itself progressive...

At some point, these people made the conscious effort NOT to better themselves and NOT to make the effort to improve their lifestyle, and take the kitschy way out. Yeah, some (BUT NOT EVERY FUCKING ONE OF THEM)were forced into that lifestyle...but whenever I see someone begging for help or selling me a vice, the phrase "Life is what you make it" comes to mind...

Jesus hung out with the hoodlum, the 'tute and the pimp, the alcoholic, and the street kids since he realized they live their lives on their sleeve, and admitted to him and themselves that what they chose is who they are...I am slowly starting to see why. Those who say they care don't really give a half-shit...usually the suit and tie mummies. Carlin said it best is that these selfish Subaru drivers were not on some ecological bent because they wanted to save the Earth, its because they "don't want to be personally inconvienced...what they want is a clean habitat..."without all the pimps, hoodlums, bums, and street kids...

The response to this is truly disheartening 18.Sep.2005 15:52


The fact that so many people (or maybe just the same one?) chose to respond to this situation by excusing the police harassment and building up stereotypes of poor and homeless people makes me sad. It makes me sad to think that so many people seem to feel entitled to have more than they need and never be asked to share it. Disgusting. And turning it around, as "commuter" did, to be about "exploitation and abuse of homeless women" is just misguided. Where, in the article, did I mention anything about any abused or exploited women? No, this was about police harassing two men of color, as they do every day down on these streets. There were no women in tow, and it sickens me that someone would feed subtly into this sterotype of black men, by implying that they must have been "pimping." I reject that.

Of course the abuse and exploitation of homeless women is anything but invisible down here. As it happens, I work in a crisis shelter for such women. So I do see it, am not indifferent to it, and the implication that I, or anyone else angry about the racist harassment by portland police officers, must not care about abuse of homeless women is absurd.

Hey hippielawyer 18.Sep.2005 15:54

Indy reader

Tell me again, Mr. Graf, because I forgot. How did you win that very large lawsuit again? Wasn't it from a lot of videotaped proof of grotesque police misconduct? Oh yeh, I think it was. And where did you get all that videotape from again?

Not to denigrate your contribution, Alan 19.Sep.2005 15:14

Another donator

Actually Alan, your thoughts are well taken. The vids are indespensible. But do NOT pillory the Indy reporters who have provided you, and the public with hours of evidence. I too have given cameras and other resources to the group, although I have neither the skills nor the guts to get into the trenches where they do to get the story. Don't be so damned impatient. When the film is available, you will get some. Meantime, allow them the editorial freedom that they need to get the story. Many of them, like us, have other lives to support, as well. They cannot spend every waking hour chasing stories for you. All of the eyes and ears that appear in these columns do not have access to the camera, or the three grand with which to purchase one. Keep donating. I do, and I feel well rewarded for my gifts, as should you. Your camera, I hear, spent a little time in New Orleans recently. Maybe the reporter was too busy protecting his ass from over zealous FEMA troops to get you all the pictures that you want.
hang in there. Your donations are appreciated, and were paid for in advance, from what I have heard. Let's work together, not keep carping at one another. Thanks.

I have something to add 27.Sep.2005 19:19

Susan V.

I can shed some light on the 5th and Oak incident. I called 9-1-1 due to three people grabbing my breast as I was walking to the bus mall. I also am in the process of prosecuting two of the suspects. I think this may be the same case. Please take me into consideration. I don't know about the young men's past and at the time I didn't care. I have testified in a grand jury and will go to trial if needed. I am also in counseling and plan to move from NW Portland soon. To any possible witness(s) please come forward. I am having trouble dealing with this and need your help so I don't have to go to trial. I am hoping with additional witness, the people will give up and do the right thing. Thank You