As I and many other residents of Portland see Charter Commission campaign signs pop up, and as we read and hear local news reports quoting people who recommend the abolition of many things that relate to law enforcement, I cannot help but worry that because of the moment we are in, we are going to be making decisions that may not be easily undone with the result of one local election.

Our opinions about issues on policing in America and changing the structure of city government these days seem to only be more hardened, and the willingness to compromise seems to be fading. I get that compromise cannot always be achieved, but it does not mean we don’t have an obligation to try, state it publicly and attempt to choose leaders who we hope can reach a middle ground.

I voted “no” last year on the proposal to create the Charter Commission, because I did not see a reason for essentially cracking open our city’s constitution to achieve what those supporting the measure were seeking. But also maybe it was because I come from Chicago, and the calls for a more powerful mayor in Portland reminded me of all the drama that comes with an elected mayor, which I did not believe would be beneficial for a city of Portland’s population. But the majority of Portland residents spoke by approving the formation of a Charter Commission, and it will be formed. I respect the decision of the voters, and I will also vote in June’s Charter Commission election. That’s how democracy works. Sometimes you are on the losing end of an argument, but you have to respect the process and the people who disagreed with your assessment on a matter, as difficult as it can be at times.

When we vote for essentially our constitutional delegates to change the city charter in June, we as Portland residents must really take the time to dig into the background of the candidates who seek to draft the recommendations to change our city charter, which will later be presented to the voters. We must elect people who want meaningful reform, not a fulfillment of their personal agendas. Also, we cannot elect those who will be the loudest voices in the room and will take the most space in conversations as if they possess all the answers. Because guess what, not one single person knows all the answers and can speak for everyone about all of the issues.

All of what I said about the Charter Commission applies to police reform in Portland as well. As a Black man living in Maine, I understand firsthand the concerns out there about policing in America, and I have expressed my own thoughts about it in the public space. However, I am also not going to label the Portland Police Department as the enemy or lay all of the nation’s problems with policing in America on 161 officers in Portland, because it is not fair to them. They did not create the historical and long-standing issues regarding the relationship between communities of color and all the other issues that plague policing in America.

In my own corner of the world, I will be working with others to achieve meaningful police reform that will benefit Portland residents and address issues of local concern. As a citizen of this city who wants to be part of the solution, I hope to do my part by listening and encouraging our local elected leaders to compromise and, most importantly, to learn from others. Given that police reform will likely be on the agenda of the Charter Commission as well, I hope Charter Commission members find ways to do the same.

I cannot imagine the amount of pressure that is placed on our local elected leaders and, soon, the Charter Commission. However, it is my hope that we all can work together to enact reform that is meaningful and includes all parties involved and that people will stay level headed when topics become difficult to discuss. We have the ability to rise above it all. Let’s do it, Portland!


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