Portland Police Under Scrutiny

A Full House Greets Author Kristian Williams

By Lauren Paulson

Just how dangerous it is in Portland for citizen protesters and the police was squarely addressed by author Kristian Williams at the Unitarian Church this past Saturday.  We learned that Mr. Williams isn’t just any author; it turns out he has ‘Street Cred(ability)’.  While participating in a protest some years back, Mr. Williams was arrested, held in jail overnight and seriously injured by the police in the process.  Subsequent to that taste of police abuse, Mr. Williams wrote his book Our Enemies in Blue in 2004.

Mr. Williams admitted that he and the 1% logically thought the Fall protestations of the Occupy movement would quietly go away with the bad weather.  But that hasn’t happened.  He warned that police learned something during the civil rights movement —  violence against peaceful protesters gathers sympathy to the people involved and against the police involved.  But, see the concept of ‘strategic incapacitation’ below.

The packed room gave Mr. Williams their full attention as he delivered a thoughtful presentation on this issue of extreme importance to Occupiers and citizens at large.  Mr. William’s information is delivered on top of a recent ‘Town Hall’ meeting in St. Johns by the U.S. Justice Department on the same subject:  just how out-of-control are the Portland Police?

The audience was treated to a brief history of why America secured ‘police’ in the first place:  to capture runaway slaves.  Then Mr. Williams discussed how ‘state’ police evolved from the Pinkertons and employer’s efforts at controlling the strikers who worked in the mines.  Because local police were often on the side of the local strikers, it became necessary to form a ‘state’ police over which employers had more control.  In short, the police have been the enemy of labor movements and the civil rights movement for most of our history.

photo by Lauren Paulson

What is Happening Now

Author Williams asked us to consider this concept: minority (1%) Capitalists control wealth in America and we, the wage earners, rent ourselves out to them for wages and tips.  When we get unruly or protest, citizens could expect police to have empathy because they come, after all, from the middle class, are unionized and suffer with relatively modest wages along with the rest of us.  Yet, they answer to the 1% instead.

Now, police have learned to network among themselves and some in the audience felt Portland Mayor Sam Adams might have been one of the prime network agents to coordinate the police tactics on Occupiers near and far.  Homeland Security and their enforcers, the Federal Protective Services, have a lot of ‘cop’ equipment and a budget of over a half billion dollars.  An alliance between mayors and Homeland Security could lead to a militarization of the local police.

Strategic Incapacitation

Williams then discussed the concept of ‘Strategic Incapacitation.’  Locally, ‘Strategic Incapacitation’ has caught the attention of the National Lawyer’s Guild.  Police make strategic arrests to diffuse a situation with no real intent to prosecute the individuals.  That approach was in full view on the rainy day of the ‘Occupy the Courts’ event at the Pioneer Courthouse, recently.  When the lawful assembly was approaching the front door of the Courthouse, which in theory is open to the public, the police aggressively arrested a few determined Occupiers which quickly brought to heel the others close at hand.

This Saturday’s two-hour session on police abuse ended with a lively question and answer period.  Multifaceted questions about police tactics caused Mr. Williams to point out that the old poster roadmaps showing how the criminals are allied or connected is no longer necessary.  It is all now on Facebook.

Finally, Williams suggested that reform of current police departments is not enough.  It will take a whole new system. Another session devoted to solutions by a group like this one, a mixed demographic audience, would be worthwhile according to some.  People lingered, pondering the possibilities.

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