Mayor seeks citizen panel to address racism in Portland

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Portland may establish a citizen-led steering committee to address systemic racism.

Mayor Kate Snyder on Monday told the City Council she will propose a resolution at the council’s July 13 meeting for a steering committee made up of citizens and several stakeholder groups. The panel would likely work for six months before reporting back to the council.

Snyder said the steering committee would work with an independent facilitator paid for by the city. She said her proposal will be the result of several meetings about systemic racism, including a recent workshop held with the Portland Police Department to discuss the June 1 protest where police and protesters clashed and nearly two dozen people were arrested.

Mayor Kate Snyder, upper left, discusses her intention to propose a steering committee on systemic racism in Portland during the City Council’s June 29 workshop. Police Chief Frank Clark, center, also took part in the remote session. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)

“I think we have a real opportunity to provide this opportunity within the community and engage people in the conversations,” Snyder said.

Councilor Belinda Ray, who chairs the Health and Human Services subcommittee where an earlier discussion on policing was held, said this is a logical next step as the city looks at ways to address public safety. She said it could include some kind of restructuring, especially as calls to defund police have swept the nation following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Ray said a steering committee can be more rigorous in taking up the issue than a council subcommittee, although she doesn’t “want this to be an indictment of the police force.”

In addition to the steering committee, there was discussion Monday night about a possible third-party investigation into the June 1 protests.

Councilor Pious Ali has said an independent investigation would not try to indict the police, but he feels there are people who are afraid to come forward or don’t trust city government enough to tell their side of the June 1 story.

“This is not to point a finger at the police,” Ali said. “This is an opportunity for us to give people who may or may not trust us to anonymously give us feedback.”

Council response to the suggestion of an independent investigation has been lukewarm, with some councilors saying there isn’t a need since there have been no complaints filed about police use of force on June 1. Other councilors have expressed some interest, but only if an investigation has a narrow focus.

Councilor Justin Costa, for example, said while an investigation would be useful for community engagement and transparency, he’s concerned that focusing on a single event such as June 1 could be distracting to the community when there are bigger issues to discuss.

“There is only so much time and energy people have to give to some of the conversations we want to have,” he said.

Likewise, Councilor Nick Mavodones said while there is a need to look at the broad array of issues around racism, he isn’t convinced anything happened June 1 to warrant further investigation outside of what the Police Department has already disclosed.

Mavodones said he is in favor of the steering committee proposal, as long as it has the right makeup.

“If we build the process with the right people and the right stakeholders, we’ll get the right results,” he said. “If we focus solely on one item, I think we’ll miss the boat.”

Ali said he had planned to propose his own resolution Monday night for the investigation, but after speaking with Snyder about the steering committee he was willing to work with her to include some of what he wanted in her resolution to avoid competing resolutions.

While councilors stressed any actions they took are not meant to be an indictment of the police, Councilor Jill Duson essentially said the city shouldn’t assume things are better in Portland than in other cities around the country where there have been racial incidents.

“Not everything is perfect, and it doesn’t mean we don’t keep looking at details,” Duson said. “… There’s no such thing as a good slave master.”

If councilors agree to form the steering committee, Snyder said it would likely start meeting in August and conclude its work next March with recommendations to the council.

Ryan Adams helped create this memorial mural to George Floyd behind the Aura nightclub on Center Street in Portland. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)

Black Lives Matter mural may be painted on Congress Street

Mayor Kate Snyder said she and Councilor Pious Ali have been talking with local artists about creating a Black Lives Matter mural on Congress Street in front of City Hall.

Snyder told a City Council workshop Monday that she and Councilor Pious Ali were approached by muralist Ryan Adams and artist Susanna Hunt about the creation of the public art display. Snyder said Hunt, who recently helped create a memorial mural to George Floyd outside Aura nightclub, offered his time at no cost to the city.

She said the work could be done in one eight-hour, overnight session so it wouldn’t be too disruptive to traffic. Volunteers would be needed, and at least $6,000 would be necessary from the city for supplies.

Snyder said she will be looking for council action on July 13, with the work to possibly be done in August between Myrtle and Exchange streets.

— Colin Ellis

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