This story is part of our feature about the many protest events on May 1, 2012. Visit the feature page to see more.
by Nick Caleb
Dear Occupy Portland, local activist community, and broader Portland,
On May Day, we witnessed the lengths to which the Portland Police Bureau, and by extension the City of Portland (Sam Adams’ aide was there observing and speaking with the police all day long), will go to suppress what are essentially traffic violations and occasional uses of naughty language. We have demonstrated over and over the peacefulness of activism in Portland and have been rewarded by repeated assault. Even when we are in the streets, our traffic disruptions are minor compared to what happens when the police mob in, arrest everyone, and disrupt city functions.
The imagery that sticks with me today is of a flying V of enormous bike officers racing at full speed into a crowd and leaping off into them while throwing haymaker punches. Beyond the fact that no amount of jaywalking could ever justify this type of force, just the difference in size between the police and members of the crowd is telling. Some people who attend these protests are of small stature, and physics assures us that this tactic can only cause serious injury.
No amount of cursing and jaywalking can justify the amount of force that continues to be used. If preventing an interruption of your commute seems worth risking the health, safety, and welfare of others, you should definitely check your moral philosophy. Even when Occupy is in the street, no one gets hurt. People only get hurt at these marches when the police show up. These so-called conflicts are no more than “Police Riots”. When the police punch and tackle people for jaywalking, they are not engaging in crowd control actions, they are acting punitively. They appear to just want to punish people as harshly as possible, on the spot, for not obeying. This is not what a police force is supposed to do. Judgment is supposed to be left to the judiciary.
Unfortunately, there currently exists no incentive for the police to treat us like concerned citizens rather than criminals. They are authorized to use brutal tactics, and even when they step outside of accepted bounds–in which they already have wide discretion–they receive no punishment from the Bureau or the City. When the police are sued for brutality, the taxpayers have to pick up the bill, and the responsible officers continue on as though nothing happened. In addition, the officers receive the presumption of being de-escalators, but anyone who has experienced the police know than they often simply exercise raw authority. Only on the rarest of occasions do bad cops get punished adequately.
In my mind, the Portland Police are essentially a gang or tribe whose culture is determined by the most aggressive elements in the Bureau. I am not one to label all police as thugs, but there is a certain moral responsibility to bear if you are allowing your colleagues to continue to act like lunatics without stepping in to correct it. I am still open to police “being a part of the 99%”, but at present, some of them clearly don’t want to be with us. Some would rather brutalize us and act as blind authoritarians, with any transgression of the rules, no matter how small, being met with outrageous force. The Bureau, as an institution, has decided to oppose all occupations and non-approved activism with violent repression.
Because of this, I’m calling for an organized campaign against the Portland Police Bureau. No, not an FTP march, though I respect anyone’s desire to organize one, and would probably begrudgingly participate. I want to take the fight to the PPB in another way. We need to take advantage of our strengths. Our ranks are filled with talented artists, videographers, graphic designers, researchers and writers. In addition, we have endless footage of police brutality taking place in Portland. I want to use this talent to organize a campaign to persuade the citizens of Portland that the police are no longer deserving of their enormous budget or the public’s trust. I want to convince the citizenry that this City is ready to end the era of authoritarianism and spend the money currently being wasted on police overtime and salary to hire new teachers and build more schools.
This campaign — with the tentative title “Fire a Cop. Hire Two Teachers” — would have a strong public relations element that would show the public not just how violent officers have been toward protesters over the last six months, but also against marginalized communities throughout the years. We would propose a series of reforms, which could include a (truly) independent citizen review committee (with subpoena powers), disarming beat cops, as is common in European countries, and severe restrictions on the use of force against protesters.
There will be a new contract negotiation with PPB in a year’s time, and there’s every reason to believe that an organized campaign now could influence this process. In many ways, we are in a strong position to demand actual accountability for rogue officers and alter the internal policies of the bureau for a more humane and politically savvy police force. The whole point is that it’s costly to live in a police state–both in terms of money and civil rights.
There are plenty of existing groups in the City to partner with us in arranging this campaign, including Copwatch, the National Lawyer’s Guild, One: the Black Working Group, and others of which I may be unaware, or simply overlooking.
We are at a critical time in our history. We are nearing the end of one era–the era of exploitation–and we can choose to create a more prosperous and humane city if we desire. The police have been an impediment to social movements in the past and we must de-fang them now if we want our movement to grow. We cannot stand by and let the police scare the protest out of any of us.