Poverty/Racism

After the Civil War, many whites including former slave owners left the South and settled in Oregon.  As Mayor Wheeler noted in his State of the City speech, Oregon has a long history of racism.  Oregon was the only state in the U.S. to ban black people.  Let me say that again. Oregon was the only state in the entire country to actually ban black people.  Oregon remains nearly 90% white, yet black citizens continue to be a focus for arrest and poverty.

Quanice Hayes’ story[1] is particularly disconcerting for a number of reasons.  First, toxicology reports show that Quanice had drugs in his system.  Second, Quanice did not have a real firearm.  While officers must make instantaneous life or death decisions it’s worthwhile to evaluate the circumstances of those decisions and whether the police like it or not, scrutiny is not only inevitable, it’s also necessary.

Officers involved in Quanice’s shooting stated he had darting eyes, then seemed to be staring, yet was also complying with their directions. Substance abuse and mental illness induce an array of behavior especially under extreme pressure.  These reactions do not necessarily mean a suspect intends to resist or pull a weapon, particularly when that person is asking questions and attempting to comply. Portland’s record for shooting mentally ill citizens and the federal government’s investigation of this pattern suggest that police are using deadly force without properly assessing the risk.

Quanice was suspected of an earlier armed robbery.  When he was shot, a fake gun fitting the description of the gun used in the robbery was a few feet away.  It’s worth pointing out that in this day and age it isn’t difficult to purchase a gun.  Had there been intent to cause harm, Quanice wouldn’t be carrying a toy. Furthermore, assuming he was the robber, police did not seem to take into account that the robbery victim was unharmed, suggesting that the suspect may not be deadly.

Quanice Hayes was a runaway teenager with drugs in his system.  He was suspected of using a deadly weapon to steal food stamps from someone without having exercised deadly force.  To suggest the officer might have reacted to Quanice’s race by shooting him to death (while he was on the ground) isn’t a stretch, yet a grand jury didn’t indict.  Why?  They believed the officer’s decision wasn’t based on malice or gross disregard for an innocent life. However, the reality is that the officer’s decision was also a product of questionable police training and our culture that assumes the worst of black men.

The aforementioned scenario is common.  Minorities and mentally ill are treated like criminals without due process, feared without imposing harm, and killed upon impulse.  The sad fact is that poverty perpetuates itself and systemic racism relegates many minorities to poverty.  And many of the same people who decry racism, homelessness, and violence also oppose taxes that fund education, shelters, rehabilitation and mental health services, and proactive police training.  Those views, reflected in voting choices and government participation, determine distribution of resources.

 

Democracy

Quanice Hayes’ story is symptomatic of a collective ill that consistently points the finger.  One thing is clear: Everyone loves to blame the government.  Businesses & residents blame government for not funding more police patrols, protestors blame police for racist and undue force, and citizens blame politicians for lack of accountability.  It’s as if the government sprouted on its own and decided to make everyone miserable.  The fact frequently ignored is that government is a reflection of the community for better or worse.

Leadership, especially on local levels, isn’t all glory and riches. Government work is complex, painstaking, and frequently taken for granted.  Recent stories describe protestors outside Mayor Wheeler’s home urinating in his bushes, harassing his neighbors and flipping off his wife.  From the photo shared on Twitter, it also appears that someone slashed Mayor Wheeler’s tire.  Focusing all our attention on one person who literally took office not more than four months ago is lazy and dangerous.  The tyrannical methods used by Maximilien Robespierre stained the democratic ideals of the French Revolution.  In the end, those outside Mayor Wheeler’s home are not fighting for equality; rather, they are exploiting and ultimately undermining a vital message.  There is a difference between civil disobedience and criminal behavior.

While many government officials take office, then abuse power for personal gain others are listening and trying to find a way to address community problems.  It’s essential that citizens (especially outraged protestors) express their views using all democratic methods including:

  • Voting/Encouraging others to vote
  • Writing letters to elected officials and news media
  • Contributing to, establishing lobbies
  • Sitting on commissions and committees

Oregon’s laws leave a lot of decision-making to voters.  While protests are a completely legitimate form of political expression and often effective, the hard work that influences government priorities and distribution of resources happens behind the scenes and requires consistent participation on all levels.

In short, Quanice Hayes’ death was preventable and there’s so much more to it than one officer’s perception of life or death

Written by Aimee Sukol, Communications Committee Chair/Board Member

[1] http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2017/03/portland_officer_said_he_fired.html

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