Mayor Kate Snyder named the 13 members of a racial equity steering committee Wednesday, the first step in the council’s plan to address systemic racism in Portland.

The group was formed by council resolution in July after nationwide protests, including in Portland, against police brutality and systemic racism following the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd while in police custody.

The resolution charges members to examine the role of police in city life, and more broadly, to evaluate what structures and policies disproportionately affect Black people and people of color, and recommend changes to those structures to improve the lives of minority community members, improve community relationships and root out systemic racism.

The members are Abdul (Ali) Ali, At-Large City Councilor Pious Ali, Leila Deandrade, Kate Knox, Merita McKenzie, Peter O’Donnell, Cumberland County District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck, Niky Dwin Watler Amaris, Lado Lodoka, Suheir Alaskari, Deborah Ibonwa, Jerome Bennett and Louis Pickens.

At the Wednesday meeting, Snyder said she hopes the group will have its first meeting within the next couple of weeks, when members will elect leadership from among their own ranks, and the chair or co-chairs will work with city staff to hire an outside facilitator to help guide the group’s work.

Snyder said she expects the committee to return a report to the council with its findings and recommendations in January.


Snyder proposed the committee as the council struggled to respond to the racial injustice protests and the request by some councilors for an independent review of how the police responded to the local demonstrations. A protest on June 1 led to violent clashes, property damage and burglaries and a show of police force that included riot gear and pepper spray. More than 20 people were arrested for failing to disperse, although the charges were later dropped.

Some residents opposed creating the committee, saying the council should instead act on a series of reforms proposed by racial justice advocates, from renter protections to budget changes.

The council’s resolution directs the committee to focus first on the role police play in the community and recommend “changes, as necessary, to various policies, structures, and procedures related to public safety that may disproportionately impact Black people and other persons of color with the specific aim of improving community relations, establishing mutual trust and respect, and rooting out and ending systemic racism.”

The committee is certain to discuss racial disparities in arrests and use-of-force incidents by Portland police, as well as calls for more citizen oversight of the police department.

Data released by the department in June show city police arrest Black people at a rate more than twice what the Black population in the city might suggest, they said. The data showed a similar disparity when it comes to use-of-force incidents.

This week, City Manager Jon Jennings wrote a  letter to the Portland’s police citizen oversight board saying the city is working on a partnership with academic institutions to study racial disparities in arrests and the use of force, and to conduct regular bias reviews.

However, Jennings rejected a proposal by the Police Citizen Review Subcommittee to enhance citizen oversight of complaints and use-of-force reviews. Jennings said the proposed changes would have implications for labor agreements, while members of the committee have said the board has such a limited role that it has effectively failed to provide real oversight.

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