Just back from city club, where my rant was surprisingly well received. You can catch it tonight on OPB at 7 o'clock if you were too busy to tune in this afternoon. Or you can just read what I had to say, after the jump.
First of all I’d like to thank city club for inviting me to speak. I’ve attended several of these forums as a reporter, but to be allowed to address this group is a surprising privilege. Not least because you are all so solidly within the Mercury’s 18-30 demographic.
When I was asked to speak here today, the theme I was given was to rant. Now, those of you who have read one of my weekly columns on city hall will know that ranting is something I can do, practically, to order. But what makes my rant today slightly different is that what I am calling for is really not so crazy.
In fact, to describe this as a “rant” will inevitably bolster those who would suggest that my concerns are aligned with a vocal minority, with a constituency that can be swept aside—the quarter of a million people who tend to read the Mercury’s website every month, for example. Or the hooded so-called anarchists who took to the streets on Monday night calling for police reform. Or the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Police Reform. Or the Mental Health Association of Portland. Or Portland Copwatch.
But my rant, I think you will agree, is not about reassuring a vocal minority. It is to the benefit of all of us here. To all of us who live and work in the City of Portland, in Multnomah County, in this great state of Oregon.
All I want. All I am asking, is that we, as a community, stop killing people who are suffering with mental illness. And that instead, we adequately fund treatment and prevention for those people so that our law enforcement officers are no longer the first responders in situations of mental health crisis. That is all.
Now if that simple, sane request qualifies as a rant, then I think that says all I need to know about our priorities as a community. Indeed the title of my rant, the theme I have chosen to give it, is “blood in the bike lanes.”
I first heard that phrase uttered by a protester outside Mayor Sam Adams’ office in February, following a visit by the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who described the January police shooting of Aaron Campbell as an “execution”—Campbell was an unarmed, African American man who had been hospitalized a year earlier, following an unsuccessful suicide attempt.
The protestor shouted: “There is blood in your bike lanes, mayor!”
It seems we would rather ensure that our city has a network of bike lanes 600 miles long, than ensure that the least fortunate amongst us—those cursed with mental illness, for example—are adequately protected from death at the hands of our police officers.
Mayor Sam Adams, when he addressed City Club in early February, projected his vision of what he wanted Portland to look like up here on the wall. It showed a streetcar and a bike lane, rolling down 82nd Avenue.
Yet, Adams only mentioned the word "police" once in his entire speech. Later, in answer to a question on mental health, the mayor said funding shortages mean that problems will "show up on our streets."
That’s a shrug statement from our mayor. He said problems will “show up on our streets.” Like a few unwelcome pimples, waiting to be squeezed.
Meanwhile, the mayor didn’t mention Aaron Campbell, who had been shot one week earlier. Not once. And his speech was 3500 words long. It managed to devote some time to talking about our city's "values and our destiny." But if the mayor didn't have time to address police accountability and better funding for mental health issues in that arena, then our "values and our destiny" are not as aligned with basic human decency as I had thought.
It’s not that I begrudge bike riders, or those who support Mayor Adams’ vision of a sustainable city with a strong education system and a thriving economy. It’s just that I don’t see how our city can ever live up to its livable reputation when there is blood in the bike lanes.
The hypocrisy is that the bike paths and the Pearl District yoga classes you can bring your dog to, these are luxuries which, to newcomers, leave the assumption that other, more vital services have been provided for. When we have the luxuries but not the vital services underneath, then our leadership has misunderstood their role - as stewards of the city. Stewards - not salesmen.
Yes, it bothers me. It bothers me that Saks Fifth Avenue decided to close its downtown store last week, and that the news emerged on the same day that a homeless man, Jack Dale Collins was shot at the Hoyt Arboretum. But it would have been nice to see Mayor Adams devote a little more time to responding to Collins’ death on the record, and a little less time to essentially figuring out where his considerable staff is going to go to buy their next pair of beige slacks.
I was also perplexed at Portlantd Police Association boss Scott Westerman. He described the officer involved—Jason Walters—as “very Portland,” because he’s a vegan, and he rides a bike. Am I the only one who sees the unsettling dynamic at play in that statement?
There is blood in our bike lanes! And are we simply shrugging our shoulders about the lack of mental health funding at the city level, at the county level, at the state level, when we can find money, instantly, for any number of other priorities, here in town.
Three weeks ago, council voted to divert $20million from the city’s sewer budget to kickstart Mayor Adams’ bicycle master plan—which will build those 600 miles of bike lanes across Portland. City Commissioner Amanda Fritz said she thought it was a wonderful idea, yet when City Commissioner Randy Leonard brought forth police reform measures the following week, Fritz raised concerns about the reforms going through a thorough public process. What? Now you want public process?
James Chasse, junior was not afforded a thorough public process before being killed by our police more than three years ago. The citizens of the city have been calling for reform at every available forum for years. And the city is still fighting a lawsuit brought by Chasse’s family. In fact the insurance company for the city has just hired a very expensive lawyer to defend the city’s case in court.
So Commissioner Fritz: Your demands for a thorough public process around police reform represent the same type of fetishizing around process for process’s sake which have paralyzed this city on the vital issues for far too long. There is blood in your thorough public process. There is blood in our bike lanes.
Meanwhile, you will read in this week’s Mercury, Central City Concern is struggling to fund just $700,000 a year to fund 16 more beds at the Hooper Detox Center for homeless people struggling with addiction issues. Jack Dale Collins wasn’t drunk when he was shot last week. But he was a drinker. A heavy drinker, we know that. And a cutter, too. He felt compelled to cut himself. He even walked into Central Precinct 11 days before he was shot, begging for mental health treatment.
The officer shrugged, and sent him on his way. Because there’s no funding for mental health. And, to quote Mayor Adams, these problems will “show up on our streets.”
Well, the problem isn’t just in the mayor’s office. It’s also right here in this room. I am responsible for this. You are responsible for this— I’ll just be frank about it. You are the civic leaders that our politicians will listen to. A phone call from someone like you is the equivalent of 30 people protesting outside city hall, in terms of getting something done. In fact, the Portland Business Alliance is still the number one lobbying entity at city hall. All that is necessary for more blood to be spilled in the bike lanes is for good people like you to do nothing. To say: “This isn’t my problem. This isn’t the area I work on. Oh, I focus on something else.”
Well: You are not doing enough. If you care about this issue you can call Mayor Sam Adams’ office right now. Here’s the number, in case it isn’t already plugged into your cell phone: (503) 823-4120. Shoot him an email. Write him a letter. Harrass the man on Twitter.
If you won’t even do that, City Club, then there is blood on your hands. There is blood running through city hall. There is blood in our public process. And yes, there will be much more blood spilled in our bike lanes."