Portland's cop union faced increased pressure to admit that police officers racially profile at the fifth—and most heated—meeting of the mayor's racial profiling committee last week.
The committee has been skirting around a definition of racial profiling since it first met in January, and Portland Police Association (PPA) boss Robert King softened his line in March, saying he understood community members feel they are victims of "racial bias" ["Tipping Point," News, March 22]. But so far, King has refused to go so far as to admit that police racially profile.
Things took a turn last Wednesday, May 16, when the committee's newly hired facilitator, Kristin Lensen, challenged members to agree on what racial profiling means. Sergeant Dave Hendrie said that for many officers, the word "race" is difficult, and that he would prefer to tackle "bias in policing."
Hendrie's comment prompted Oregon Action Executive Director Jo Ann Bowman to hit back: "I think we do ourselves a disservice if we try to pretty up the terminology," she said. "No matter what you call it, people are in pain because they feel disrespected in their own community."
Bowman's comments prompted King to intervene.
"I just really bristle when I listen to Jo Ann," he said. "It does not lead to anything constructive. You are not going to get us to admit we're racist and we have been [racially profiling] all along. It will be a colossal waste of time."
But Lensen, the facilitator, challenged King to think about the power dynamics of being a white male police officer.
"When you say, 'I can't listen to you,' you're using that power," she said. "And for people of color it is one more slap in the face."
King later explained that, "the stakes get too high for me to admit any mistakes."
"This process is setting me up for getting run over, mistreated and abused," he added. "And if that is how this is set up, then I am not really interested in being part of it."
Next month the committee will sit down for a four-hour meeting, and in response to union concerns, the meeting will include more police officers. King did not return the Mercury's follow-up call for comment.