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A Deadly Game of Déjà Vu

A Familiar Pattern of Police Shooting Emerges

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"A change must come, not later but now," said Reverend LeRoy Haynes, sitting in front of city council on Wednesday. As part of the Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA) Ad Hoc Committee for Community Justice, Rev. Haynes has been calling for new, improved police training mandates ever since the shooting of Kendra James more than a year ago. Joined by four other community leaders, Rev. Haynes pointed out to city council members that each shooting instigates a familiar cycle of promise and disappointment. First, the police offer a begrudging acknowledgement that there are shortcomings with their training; this is followed by a promise to institute new training protocols; and then, finally--nothing. Each time a minority resident is shot, this cycle seems to repeat itself.

"We have said 'never again,' and yet many of the policies and much of the training that led to the death of Kendra James continue on, as we saw with the death of James Jahar Perez," explained Haynes.

"We're sitting on a smoldering volcano of anger," said Haynes, "fueled by the failure of the Portland police and city council to make changes."

"We commend the proposed changes by [Chief Derrick] Foxworth," he continued, "but they are not enough to prevent another shooting of an unarmed citizen."

In March, police shot James Perez, an unarmed black man, in North Portland after a routine traffic stop. Immediately following the shooting, the newly appointed Chief Foxworth took several baby steps towards reform. He mandated that officers must write a report each time they point a weapon at someone. He ordered a public inquiry into the shooting--the first such investigation in 19 years. And he promised new training sessions to help officers consider racial differences and mental health issues. For nearly two months, talk of the recent shooting dominated the attention of local politicians and media.

But in more recent weeks, talk of police shootings and promises for new training protocols have faded almost completely from the headlines.

Also testifying at city council, Genny Nelson, executive director for Sisters of the Road and a member of the AMA Committee, pointed out: "We have a dreadful record. Byron Hammick, Mejia Poot, Kendra James, James Perez would all be alive today if studies were all it took."

She pointed out that a Blue Ribbon study had been conducted four years ago under Chief Mark Kroeker. That study suggested police training regarding racial profiling needed to be improved. The study predated all four shootings of ethnic minorities.

Council members listened politely on Wednesday, but made no promises for instigating any further changes.

by Phil Busse

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