Today’s verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder trial has provided a long overdue sense of accountability in policing, but let’s be clear: this is not justice. The guilty verdict is obviously the correct decision and it is historic. We all saw what happened to George Floyd on video. It’s rare that police officers are brought to trial over these killings and rarer still that the officer is found guilty. But this verdict does not bring George Floyd back. It does not make his family whole again. It does not make the community whole.
In a just world, George Floyd would never have been unjustly killed by a police officer having a knee to his neck for almost 9 minutes. In the words of Cornell West, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”
Justice looks like all Portlanders, and particularly those most harmed by police violence, being able to leave their homes without fear of not returning because of a traffic stop gone wrong, a mental health episode, or simply wearing a hoodie. I want a police department that believes everyone involved in a 911 response should be alive at the end of the day. We need police to uphold the value that no one is expendable, even if they are not doing what a police officer has asked.
Today I am inspired to continue doing the work I have done for the last 32 years. To work with community to rebuild policing so that it respects all lives and provides safety equitably.
What happened to George Floyd happens here in Portland. I believe that we are all ready for change, and to really start that process our community needs the opportunity to heal locally. To do that, we must start with PPB admitting to the harm it has caused throughout history in our City, especially to BIPOC and houseless communities. We need to see accountability for their misconduct, including the many incidents of police brutality we witnessed last summer when thousands of Portlanders took to the streets to declare Black Lives Matter. We need a commitment, through policy change, that these incidents won’t continue to happen.
We have begun the process of changing our system of community safety locally. We are creating police alternatives like the Portland Street Response (PSR) pilot. Voters overwhelmingly approved a new system of community police oversight last November that is in the process of being set up. We divested from PPB’s most racially unjust specialty units and are further planning to set up Portland Street Response for long term 24/7 citywide success. Most recently, council passed a historic investment in community-based organizations to mitigate gun violence, as opposed to the traditional knee jerk reaction of funding more police. That investment also lays out the beginnings of a process to further evaluate and change our system of community safety.
I’ll be the first to admit that the above actions are not enough. We have so much further to go. To get there, I need your help. Portlanders have shown that they are hungry to act, and my hope is that we will work together towards transforming our system of community safety, so that we never again have to witness the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Quanice Hayes, or Robert Douglas Delgado.
I am a child of the Civil Rights movement. I believe in and support non-violent protest and direct action. It’s necessary to bring the scope of change the moment demands. I want to see that non-violent energy from last summer return, when thousands of Portlanders took to the streets to demand change. The pace of progress is slow and frustrating, but change is happening because of that pressure. Now we must work together to continue our transformation of community safety.
Acknowledging the anger that exists in our community, I continue to plead as the Portland Fire Commissioner for all Portlanders to recognize the extreme danger of lighting fires of any kind with the dry conditions that have led to a Multnomah County burn ban. Whether it’s at a backyard fire pit or a protest, please consider the potential consequences.
We need to dramatically change policing to ensure its community centered and less aggressive. We need to continue developing alternatives to police to ensure 911 calls get the right response. We need truth and reconciliation and we need culture change from PPB. We need real accountability.
Today was a rare day where our country finally saw a degree of accountability for police violence. I hope this moment continues to elevate the need to transform a broken system. I’m fully committed to working with you to make that happen, but for today may George Floyd Rest in Power.