"I know that the police need tools, but I want to make sure that it's balanced with community interest," explained Mayor Tom Potter to a largely African American audience. "With that," he added, "I'll take my seat so I can listen."
And listen he did.
On Tuesday evening about 150 people gathered in a North Portland church to vent and to express their concerns. It was the first public forum on the city's notorious Drug Free Zones—the local ordinance under which a cop may boot any person suspected of using or selling drugs from Old Town or North Portland (for 90 days).
Three weeks earlier, city council voted to extend allowances for the zones until February. Originally, they'd been asked by the city attorney to approve a three year extension. But instead Potter pushed for a temporary postponement to allow city council to hear from residents and decide what to do with the DFZ.
The freedoms police would enjoy when enforcing DFZ and their ability to kick people out of certain neighborhoods are what's at stake here. A few years ago, police were allowed to boot anyone they "merely suspected" was dealing or using. While that allowance was struck down as unconstitutional in 2003, a few days later, then-mayor Vera Katz put DFZ back into play when she upped the level of evidence cops needed to a "preponderance of evidence." Now, there's a push to further curtail—or completely eradicate—the DFZ.
On Tuesday evening, city attorney David Woboril tried to defend the virtues of DFZ. But the crowd seemed unmoved by the city attorney's presentation, and he spent most of the evening in the hot seat. To cheers, one older woman directly asked Woboril, "I just want to know how you allow a police officer to be judge, jury, and executioner."
Looking stone-faced, Woboril did not respond.