Portland Mayor Kate Snyder said the city must act to address the upheaval caused by George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis and the subsequent protests against institutional racism and police brutality that shook Portland and cities around the country and world.

“We need to keep an eye toward healing our community and preparing for the future as we chart a path forward in our fight against systemic racism,” Snyder told her fellow councilors during a Monday night workshop where she laid out her vision for achieving that goal.

Snyder’s resolution, which will be presented to the City Council at its July 13 meeting, calls for creating a steering committee to examine systemic racism in Portland and provide recommendations for improving the relationship between the community, its police department and city government.

The steering committee’s members would be appointed by the mayor – most likely in August – and would be required to submit a report to the city by March 2021.

Protesters march in a celebration of Juneteenth on June 19 in Portland. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Snyder and other members of the council suggested the committee also review the Portland Police Department’s response to the June 1 Black Lives Matter protest that resulted in the arrests of more than 20 people for failure to disperse.

At a workshop held June 22, leaders of the Portland Police Department told councilors that the June 1 demonstration, which drew about 2,500 protesters, caught them off guard and forced them into a crisis management mode they were not prepared for.

A few councilors, including Pious Ali, believe the police department’s handling of that protest, which was marred by some acts of violence and vandalism, should be investigated by an independent entity, while other councilors said the city should not get bogged down with such an inquiry. Councilors did not take any actions Monday night on conducting an external review of the June 1 protest.

“My request for a third-party investigation is not an indictment of our police,” Ali said, adding that such a review would give citizens the opportunity to offer their opinions of the police response on an anonymous basis and would remove fears of retribution.

Ali said he believes that racism should be treated as a public health crisis. He hopes that clause will be written into the mayor’s resolution laying out the steering committee’s mission.

“Systemic racism did not happen overnight. It happened over 200 years,” Ali said.

Councilor Kim Cook said she would support an independent review of the police department’s response to the June 1 protest. Though Cook says she will support the mayor’s task force, she said an external review would help restore the “credibility and trust” in its government.

Councilor Nicholas Mavodones said he is reluctant to embark on an independent review of the police department response because “if we focus strictly on one item then we’re going to miss the boat.” He prefers the mayor’s approach of taking a look at the broader array of issues that fuel racism.

Councilor Belinda Ray said she would support restructuring the police department, using input from members of the steering committee. She said it’s time for the city to take a new approach toward public safety that doesn’t involve dismantling the department.

“We really do have a good police department in this city and I don’t want us to forget that,” she said.

City Councilor Tae Chong urged the mayor and his colleagues to appoint a committee that is diverse, representing all ages, colors and occupations.

“Establishing racial equity is looking at our blindsides,” Chong said. “Sometimes, the temperature feels normal, but we need to take a harder, more honest look at ourselves.”

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