PORTLAND — Just days after denouncing recent violence against police officers that included late-night gunfire into the police garage, city councilors say they want a review of the Portland Police Department, the role it plays, its policies and structure in order to address systemic racism in the city.

A Racial Equity Steering Committee will focus on the city’s approach to public safety. The 13-members of the committee, who will be appointed by Mayor Kate Snyder next month, will have racial equity experience and include representatives from the City Council and Portland Public Schools and from the areas of public safety, housing, healthcare, employment, education, homelessness, community organizers, faith communities and youth. The committee, which will be aided by a third-party facilitator, will present its recommendations and a written report by Jan. 22.

The ACLU of Maine said the committee was not needed because its racial justice advocates have already set out a slate of equality policies they want the city to adopt. Speaking for the ACLU, Michael Kebede also said it was “problematic” to have Snyder choose committee members even though she has the authority to do so.

“Racial equity has to be black-led,” Kebede said.

“Yes, we have a good police department, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to dig in and do some work,” said Councilor Belinda Ray. “This is the place we have to start because this is where the tension is focused. That focus won’t go away if we don’t do the work.”

Councilor Jill Duson said public safety is the right place to start.

“I can’t figure out if we don’t start there, where else we start? We’ve got to start there. I support our police department, but I can’t say they are above review or questioning,” Duson said.

Councilor Nick Mavodones voted against forming the steering committee because he thought its assigned focus was too narrow.

“I was looking for something more community focused,” he said.

In addition, a series of community conversations around racism will be held and the city’s public art committee will be asked to review offers of public art in support of racial equity.

Those who spoke at the meeting were concerned about the makeup of the committee and how those individuals would be chosen.

Snyder said she intends to ask councilors and members of the public to suggest committee members.

“By no means am I looking to do this alone,” Snyder said.

Shannon Wade, of Clark Street, said it “is critical black voices are center. Youth voices are center and queer voices are center.”

St. Lawrence Street resident Marcella Makinen said she was concerned the process won’t include enough people of color “whose lives are being affected by this every day.”

“It’s time for a change. It’s uncomfortable. It’s challenging and it’s difficult. We need to get new leadership stepping up and speaking from experience,” she said.

Nyalet Biliew, a resident of Oxford Street, said she does not trust the council to include black voices in the discussion.

“None of you have addressed the Black Lives Matter demands,” Biliew said. “How are we suppose to trust you?”

The council approved two other measures Monday designed regarding how police responded to a large-scale BLM protest on June 1 in the city that got violent and led to more than 20 arrests.

The first, based on a recommendation from Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, will allow people to bring complaints and concerns they had with how they were treated by police at the protest to a third party, who will in turn report those complaints to police. This enables those who don’t feel comfortable bring their complaints directly to police to know their complaint was heard, Thibodeau said.

The second measure, spearheaded by Councilor Pious Ali, sets up a third-party review to look into how police responded to the June 1 protest and the department’s plan for future large-scale protests or gatherings.

The police department presented its perspective on the June 1 protest to the council on June 22. The third-party review, Councilor Kimberly Cook said, will allow the council to get a different perspective of what happened.

“I think we will be able to get a full picture of the event,” she said.

Ali said his request of the additional review is not an indictment of the police department, but rather an effort to learn from what transpired at the protest and to rebuild community trust.

“We all know in our heart of hearts there were a couple of things that happened that night that we need to learn from so we don’t make that mistake or don’t repeat again if we find ourselves in a situation like this,” he said.

City Manager Jon Jennings said he believes the department acted appropriately that evening and fears additional scrutiny of actions will further reduce the morale of the department.

“I am greatly concerned about the morale of the department,” he said.

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