Citing a huge scope of work to accomplish in a short period of time, Portland’s Racial Equity Steering Committee will ask Mayor Kate Snyder to extend its deadline.
The 13 members of the panel, now moving more efficiently under facilitator Samaa Abdurraqib, agreed Oct. 29 to seek an extension. They were supposed to have a report for the City Council by Jan. 22, 2021, and had hoped to produce a draft by Jan. 7.
The committee began discussing asking for an extension at its Oct. 22 meeting, when member Jerome Bennett proposed immediately seeking an extension, but was unable to reach a consensus.
On Oct. 29, Bennett again said the group should start having conversations about how and when to ask for the extension immediately.
Abdurraqib suggested the best path forward would be for City Councilor Pious Ali, who co-chairs the committee, to have a discussion with Snyder. There was some discussion on whether it would be more beneficial to invite Snyder to one of the committee’s meetings and ask for the extension there, but both Abdurraqib and the group’s other co-chair, Lelia DeAndrade, said that would not be a good use of the group’s already limited time.
“I would hate for us to put aside our work,” DeAndrade said. She also said she didn’t see the value in inviting the mayor to a meeting “other than to tell her we need an extension.”
Abdurraqib agreed, saying it would be a better use of the committee’s time for members to attend the next City Council meeting and make their case for an extension there, presumably during the non-agenda public comment section.
There was no discussion of how long an extension members think they might need, although in the past group they have indicated the committee could benefit from becoming a permanent, rather than ad-hoc, city committee.
Besides grappling with the January deadline, the group still seems to be struggling with how best to tackle the issues it is scheduled to review.
When it was formed in September, the committee was charged with addressing issues of systemic racism and inequality, and reviewing the city’s approach to policing and public safety. It will also investigate what happened at the June protest in Portland that followed the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was in the custody of the police.
Although the group did reach a consensus on the belief the responsibilities of the city’s Police Department are too broad, members debated how best to begin working towards what their response might be. They asked several questions for more clarifying information, which are likely to be researched by Marcelle Medford, a Bates College professor hired by the city to provide research for the group.
Members said they want to know what drives the way police are dispatched on calls; the diversity breakdown in the Police Department; who answers emergency calls that reach the dispatch center; how police officers are taught to respond to non-criminal events, such as public intoxication, and whether the mere presence of a police uniform deescalates or actually escalates a situation.
There was some discussion about whether the panel should break into smaller groups and begin tackling these issues, and then report back to the larger group publicly. But DeAndrade cautioned the group away from that, saying it would be “so easy for any of us to get into the weeds” when discussing these large issues, especially since “that’s a lifetime of research we listed.”
“I’d be afraid people will end up in a rabbit hole and do work that’s not helpful for us,” she said.
Ali agreed, saying sending people off individually would increase the chance of members losing their focus.
“I think where our strength is useful is during this conversation,” he said.