Dissing the Agreement

The director of Portland Copwatch, Dan Handelman, sent me a notice of the upcoming meeting of the City Council on Thursday, November 1st, at which the Agreement between the City of Portland and the Department of Justice [let me use the acronym DOJ] was to be adopted. But Jo Ann Hardesty sent a reminder the night before.

My elder son Michael Kepler Meo bicycled with me to the Northwest Children’s Theater for his “fight practice” as Peter Pan: he has to learn a choreographed sequence if he and Captain Hook are going to duel, believably, on stage. I packed a lunch and, at a nearby cafe, shared it with him before he returned home; then, with family obligations settled, I wended my way to City Hall.

On that building’s second floor, I meet Dr. Herman Frankl, who sat next to me at a mailing of the People’s Police Report a few months ago. He plans to testify against the Agreement, and I plan to join him. Dan Handelman requests, and receives from the two of us, permission to put a group of spokespersons at the microphones before us. Dr Frankl and I agree for a while about the dangers of the right-wing surge in U.S. But then, after a few minutes, he hears that I support Jill Stein, and he gasps, “That’s rendering aid to the alternative!” Discussion ceases, abruptly and completely.

The woman I sit next to, once I make to the City Council Chamber, is Angela Kimball, who is from the National Organization for the Mentally Ill. When others testify on behalf of NOMI, I belatedly realize what that means. Before testimony begins I get a chance to say hello to Woody Broadnax and tell him that Jo Ann Hardesty favored us last week with a guest lecture on Police Accountability in Portland.

Mayor Sam Adams opened the session, praising the Agreement for 15 minutes. He then called upon the City Attorney, then the Chief of Police, each telling us what a wonderful thing this was (the attorney was interrupted by Randy Leonard and asked how, if it were to be proposed, the Agreement might be amended; it would have to go back to the Department of Justice, and then they’d make a counter-offer, which the City Council could accept or could counter-counter-offer. . . ). The parade of City employees went on for awhile: next up was the mayor’s public safety liaison, followed by two different specialists from the city attorney’s office, then the city auditor, who introduced the head of the so-called Independent Police Review Board, then back to the city attorney’s office, followed by a budget officer, who told us the Agreement would cost 5 million dollars to implement.

So it’s a 70-odd-page document, so complicated it takes 8 people over an hour to describe in summary terms. Any amendment would take months of further negotiation back-and-forth. Who would want to hold this up, to stop the progress of greater accountability for the Portland police?

That’s part of the swindle: the whole business of police accountability has been wrapped in so many layers of bureaucracy, has been so mis-directed and mis-interpreted that the Department of Justice report itself termed the institution “self-defeating”: the structure of police oversight in our city is so “Byzantine” (the DOJ’s word) that its main result is rather to discourage any complainant from ever receiving relief; he or she is so wrapped up in an apparently endless process that it is easier to give up in frustration than to see the complaint through.

Jo Ann Hardesty gave an example at the Bipartisan Cafe on 25 October. The Portland police arrested some 300 people in one neighborhood over a short period, perhaps three weeks. Former Representative Hardesty asked the Bureau for publicly available information [names of arrested, charges, dispositions], and was told that it would cost her $1200 to get it, for one reason or another (does it matter, what the rationalization was?). As a board member of the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition, she meets with the mayor on a regular basis, and at the next such meeting Sam Adams told the Police Bureau to give her the information; yet, to the date of the lecture before the Cascadia Chapter all she had received was an occasional phone call, assuring her that they’re still working on it.

As an example of the mindset of the folks within the self-defeating, Byzantine world of the toothless police oversight structure we now suffer under, I can report what happened at the Citizen’s Review Committee hearing on 3 October at a second-story room at City Hall. One Mark Sherman, a former math teacher attending the hearing (he once made a complaint about how the police treated him, and saw his complaint dismissed) asked during the public comment period, whether anyone could tell him what the adjective “Byzantine” meant. What did the DOJ use of the word intend? Mary Beth Baptista, the head of the Independent Police Review Board, who attends all the Citizen’s Review Committee hearings, answered that the DOJ had put the wrong chart in their report. And that was it.

I told Mr Sherman — no one else was inclined to — that the Byzantine Empire was ridden with court intrigues that involved betrayal and assassination, and the adjective meant “extremely complicated and unpredictable.” Portland Copwatch’s Dan Handelman commented that although the DOJ had used the incorrect flow chart to illustrate the overwhelming complexity of the process for police oversight, the correct flowchart is at least as complicated as the one they used.

But now it was the turn of the community organizations and individuals (I was one) interested in police accountability to speak to the terms of the Agreement. Over the next 90 minutes perhaps 20 different people testified, and not one supported the Agreement as written. There were any number of specific flaws, but the overriding thing was, that here we had a report from a credible national institution finding a pattern of denial of constitutional rights in the way in which the police address citizens, over a period of many years, and the answer the Agreement offers is more education of officers and another layer of oversight bureaucracy. And this non-answer to the problem is offered without any chance from the organizations and individuals of the community who have for decades fought for greater police accountability to have any part whatsoever in the drafting of an Agreement, which was confidentially negotiated solely by the mayor and chief of police and whose sole mechanism for enforcement is if either the City Council or the Department of Justice finds the other party non-compliant.

James Kahane, one of the last to testify — he has worked for years with the police on the Crisis Intervention Team structure, which structure hasn’t eliminated brutal treatment of the mentally ill — characterized the Agreement as an effort to do as little as possible to avoid addressing the problem.

The uniform opposition to the Agreement had an effect. Mayor Adams announced that there would be a second City Council meeting, on 15 November, to introduce amendments to the Agreement, which amendments would be voted on the week after that. I’ll keep you advised.

About M. Meo

Worked as translator, museum technician, truck lumper, lecture demonstrator, teacher (of English as a Second Language, science, math). Married for 25 years, 2 boys aged 18 & 16 (both on the Grant cross-country team). A couple of scholarly publications in the history of science. Two years in federal penitentiary, 1970/71, for refusing the draft.
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2 Responses to Dissing the Agreement

  1. MHA says:

    It’s the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), not the “National Organization for the Mentally Ill” (NOMI) as cited above.

    Additionally, please be aware of your language. “The mentally ill” is a term of marginalization. Put people first, not the illness. It is not “the mentally ill,” but instead, “people who have a mental illness.”

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