Portland city councilors will begin reviewing police policies and procedures Tuesday in response to national and local protests against police brutality and systemic racism.

Black Lives Matter Portland, the group that organized the city’s largest protest to date, issued a list of demands during a massive demonstration on Friday that included reforming police policies and dismissing City Manager Jon Jennings.

Portland City Manager Jon Jennings Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Jennings has not directly responded to the criticism that he supported policies that disadvantaged people of color and a “law enforcement approach to poverty.” A city spokesperson said Monday that the city manager would not speak to a reporter about the demands for his removal or the upcoming review of the police department.

Mayor Kate Snyder, who was elected in November, could not be reached Monday for an interview. However, Snyder and six other members of the City Council held a news conference Saturday to express support for Jennings, who was hired in 2015. They also expressed an openness to listen to the voices of black, brown and marginalized communities in Portland and to consider any policy changes they may suggest.

City Councilor Belinda Ray, who leads the Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee, which over sees the police department, said Tuesday’s meeting will be a fact-finding session. Ray does not expect the committee to vote on any possible reforms, which would come after additional meetings and conversations with affected communities.

Ray said the protests over the last week in Portland and elsewhere prompted her to rearrange the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.

In response to everything that’s going on and all of the requests from the community, we changed the agenda to start looking at our police procedures and policies so we can all be on the same page in understanding what we have in place so we can have a conversation from there,” Ray said. “It’s really important that all of us – public officials and community members – to understand what our baseline is here.”

Ray said she supports Jennings and did not attend Saturday’s news conference because she was out of town. She said she’s currently reserving judgment on the reforms proposed by Black Lives Matter Portland.

“This is a time for us as leaders – and particularly for me as a white person – to be listening,” she said. “This is not a time for me to say, ‘I’ve got it figured out.’ I don’t have it figured out. It’s a time for me to listen, to learn and educate myself, and try to help move the community in the right direction.”

Ray hopes that the council will schedule a public hearing for the community after it holds a workshop on June 22 to discuss the Portland Police Department’s response to the June 1-2 protests, during which officers fired pepper balls at demonstrators and arrested 33 people, mostly for failure to disperse. Some protesters engaged in confrontations with police – some of whom were wearing riot gear – destroyed property and defaced businesses.

In the wake of the protests, including peaceful rallies on Wednesday and Friday, Ray believes the council needs to find other ways to engage people of color, rather than relying on the normal meeting structure, which limits input to 3 minutes.

Leaders of Black Lives Matter Portland did not respond to an interview request made through its Facebook page.

The council committee will review several policing polices and procedures, including its use of force policy. Those rules, obtained by the Press Herald, prohibit the use of choke holds and neck restraints.

George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man from Minneapolis, died after Derek Chauvin, a white, former police officer, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as two other police officers helped to pin him face down on the pavement. A fourth officer failed to intervene. All four officers involved in the arrest now face charges, including a second-degree murder charge against Chauvin.

A majority of the Minneapolis City Council agreed Sunday to disband its police department, but did not release any details about how that would be done.

House Democrats on Monday unveiled a sweeping bill to reform policing in the U.S., including limiting legal protections for police, creating a national database of excessive-force incidents and banning police choke holds, among other things.

The review of Portland’s police will include an update on the use of body-worn cameras, crisis-intervention and de-escalation tactics, implicit bias and the the role of the Citizen Police Review Board. No additional backup material was available Monday to explain what these reviews would entail.

BLM Portland’s list of reforms includes eliminating police officers from school budgets and establishing a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. School resource officers have been used for years, and the current coronavirus pandemic is disproportionately affecting blacks and African Americans in Maine and across the U.S.

As of June 3, blacks and African Americans made up 22.5 percent of the state’s coronavirus cases where race is known, despite being only 1.6 percent of the state’s population.

Protesters chant on the steps of Portland City Hall as the demonstration continues shortly after midnight Saturday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

BLM Portland wants state and local leaders to defund police, jails and prisons and use that money to support schools, jobs and social services. It stems from the belief that crime would be greatly reduced if society addressed the underlying causes of poverty, inequity and racism.

The group also is seeking a ban on facial recognition technology, which misidentifies people of color, especially women of color, at much higher rates than whites, leading to false positive identifications. Facial recognition uses a computer algorithm to compare a digital photo or video feed of a suspect to existing databases of known people, such as driver licenses, passports, mug shots and other official photo identification.

City Councilor Pious Ali proposed banning the technology in November, but the police and other city staff, including the Portland Jetport, argued against it. The council has twice postponed voting on it.

The group also wants the city to refuse to help federal immigration authorities. Portland has an ordinance that prohibits police and other city staff from asking people about immigration status, but advocates say it’s not enough, since police are still allowed to help federal immigration authorities when asked.

Among other things, BLM Portland also is calling for educational reforms that include racial impact statements on all school budgets and policies; the purchase and use of history and civics textbooks by black and native scholars; and school budgets that recruit and support black and brown teachers.

The council also will compare Portland police policies to those recommended by President Barack Obama’s Task Force for 21st Century Policing, an effort aimed at strengthening trust between the community and its police. Councilors will also compare police policies with those recommended by Campaign Zero’s “8 Can’t Wait” platform.

In calling for the dismissal of Jennings, BLM pointed to the racist roots of the city manager form of government, which was adopted in Portland in 1923 at the urging of the Ku Klux Klan. Portland re-instituted the elected mayor position in 2011, but left the day-to-day operations of the city under the city manager. Since then, there has been conflict between the two offices and a community debate about whether both are needed.

At Saturday’s news conference, Ali reminded opponents of the manager-council form of government that they will be asked in July if they support creating a charter commission. If approved, the commission could recommend wholesale changes to local government, including either strengthening or weakening the manager or mayor positions.

“If you think the way it is set up now is not working, knock on doors, make phone calls and ask people to support it,” Ali said, “and we will open the charter and we will consider how to make a government that can work for the majority of people who live in Portland.”

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