Flanked by city councilors, Mayor Kate Snyder stands in front of Portland City Hall at a June protest against police brutality and in solidarity with Black Americans. Snyder has appointed 13 people to examine racial equity in the city, particularly in law enforcement. Brianna Soukup / Portland Press Herald

PORTLAND — The newly formed Racial Equity Committee is expected to convene next week to begin its examination of how the city can reduce systemic racism, particularly in the way of policing.

The goal is for the committee to make a final report to the City Council by Jan. 22, 2021.

Mayor Kate Snyder last week appointed 13 Portland residents to the committee: Abdul Ali, Pious Ali, Leila Deandrade, Kate Knox, Merita McKenzie, Peter O’Donnell, Jonathan Sahrbeck, Niky Dwin, Walter Amaris, Lado Lodoka, Suheir Alaskari, Deborah Ibonaw, Jerome Bennette and Louis Pickens.

The city received applications from 29 people who wanted to be part of the committee, Snyder said. Each applicant would have been a valuable part of the panel, she said, but the City Council resolution forming the committee specified it include representatives of the council, Portland Public Schools, public safety, housing, health care, employment, education, homelessness, the faith community, youth and other parts of the community who are doing racial equity work.

“This feels to me like a really great group who will be able to look at the charge of the resolution and work together in a fairly short period to come up with recommendations for the council,” Snyder said.

Snyder suggested in late June that the council form the steering committee as an important first step in charting “a path toward a community vision to fight systemic racism.”


The committee is charged with looking at ways in which city government should address and respond to institutional racism and structural inequities. The initial focus will be on policing, including work officers are asked to do that falls outside law enforcement and whether resources allocated to the police department are appropriate for that work, along with examining the way police officers interact with community groups and agencies. The group also is expected to recommend changes to policies and structures in place that negatively impact Black and Indigenous people and people of color.

“Each of us are coming in with a different perception of the issues, but the charge of the resolution is to look at policing in the eyes of public safety,” said Ali, a city councilor.

“I’m honored to be part of the group and I’m looking forward to hearing from everybody who has been selected,” said Sahrbeck, Cumberland County district attorney. “I think that there are going to be many people who will be able to offer their unique perspective from their lived experiences and I am excited for the opportunity to learn from them.”

Ali said his priority for the group is to look into ways to separate traditional policing from non-traditional police calls, such as requests to respond to non-criminal social service or mental health situations.

“If we can do that, I’d be happy,” he said.

The committee’s first step is to meet and choose a chairman and vice chairman and to hire a facilitator that will help guide the work, the mayor said.

The city’s fiscal year 2021 budget, scheduled for a final City Council vote Monday, Sept. 21, includes $75,000 to cover the costs of the steering committee’s work as well as a series of community conversations about racial equity and a third-party review of the police department’s response to a June 1 Black Lives Matter protest that led to more than 20 arrests.

Snyder will appoint a three-member working group to hire a moderator for the community conversations.

“The community conversations will inform the work of the steering committee,” she said.

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