Beginning in January, Portland police will embark on a new strategy to rein in drug dealers downtown, but at least one prominent civil rights advocate is concerned it will lead to racial stereotyping by the public.
On Tuesday morning, December 12, Central Precinct Commander Mike Reese met with local media at city hall, where he detailed his officers' mission over the past six weeks—a series of undercover drug buys and subsequent arrests downtown.
His presentation included a video showing two white officers dressed in street clothes simulating a drug deal, and another video showing two African American youths actually selling crack to a white, undercover female officer. He also showed large photographs of 22 alleged drug dealers who have warrants out for their arrest—17 of whom are African American—and a photo of alleged Portland drug kingpin Dante Quinones, also African American, who was arrested on Monday, December 11.
Reese wants downtown citizens and business owners to keep an eye out for suspected crack dealers and people who look like they might be dealing, and to engage them in a non-confrontational manner. He insists that this would only target suspicious behaviors—but some are concerned this might be an unrealistic expectation, that it might engender racial profiling on behalf of the public.
"The big question here is over how the information is presented to the public," says Alejandro Queral of the Northwest Constitutional Rights Center, the co-author of a recent report on racial profiling.
"I don't disagree that facts are facts and the police have a job to do, but I'm concerned about how this is going to be perceived by the Portland community," says Queral. "Is it going to generate further animosity with the African American community? And why aren't we seeing meth dealers, who are mostly white, given this level of publicity?"
Queral's concerns are not lost on Sergeant Chris Davis, who has led the downtown street crimes unit's efforts to arrest dealers. He says citizens need to be wary of their own prejudices before jumping to conclusions.
"I think there is a danger," he says. "One of the things I hear from young black men is, 'I'm tired of not being able to stand at a bus stop for five minutes without someone hitting me up for drugs.'"
"We're focusing on behaviors, not race," Davis added. "If you're a cop or a member of the community making the judgment that somebody is a dealer based on race, then you're wrong."