JUST BEFORE HE SPOKE to more than 1,000 people at a rally at the Maranatha Church on NE 12th and Mason on Tuesday night, February 16, Reverend Jesse Jackson practiced his speech on assorted Portland ministers and community members in a side chapel.
"Are you with me so far?" he asked them—having said that if the police bureau reinstates the officer who shot Aaron Campbell as planned the next morning, it would be an "insult to the community."
"Yes," they all murmured, and so began the reverend's call and response.
"If he comes back tomorrow morning..." he said. "If he comes back tomorrow morning..." they repeated."We show up..." he said. "We show up..." they repeated. "At high noon..." he said. "At high noon..." they said. "And show him out!" "And show him out!"
Those words form the kernel of an extraordinary public standoff between Mayor Sam Adams, Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman, and one of only two living Americans to have ever had his face printed on a postage stamp—over the city's decision to reinstate Officer Ronald Frashour on Wednesday morning, February 17. Frashour shot Campbell in the back on January 29 and was cleared of criminal wrongdoing by an "all-white grand jury," in Jackson's words, on February 9.
Earlier, Adams and Saltzman met with Jackson privately. Adams thanked Jackson for a "useful, straightforward, and blunt" meeting when talking to reporters afterward, but both he and Saltzman stopped short of saying they would suspend Officer Frashour until an investigation is completed into the shooting.
"Our priority right now is for the grand jury proceedings to be made public," said Mayor Adams.
"It's one thing for the grand jury proceedings to be made public, but there's a police chief in command," Jackson responded. "That man will come back to work. His presence will injure the credibility of the entire police department. His mere presence will trigger lawsuits. Police officers cannot go and sit idly by as if this was a traffic accident."
A reporter from KOIN pressed Saltzman on this point. "The reverend has said it would be offensive for that officer to go back to work and yet he's going to be back on the street tomorrow. Are you not going to make some calls tonight and look into it tonight?" he asked.
"I will look into it tonight," said Saltzman. "But I do want to stress that this officer is not going back to his old job. He will be going back to neighborhood livability duties."
"You hear that title?" said Jackson. "Neighborhood livability. What a title. Neighborhood livability."
Even before Jackson's arrival in town, community members were expressing outrage over the shooting. It was described as a "modern-day lynching" at a tense city-sponsored "restorative listening session" the night before. The session, on Monday, February 15, had been scheduled long before the Campbell shooting, as a chance for African American community members to engage in "healing dialogue" on gentrification and race issues.
"I'm not talking about Jesse Jackson," said Reverend Renee Ward, a panelist at the session. "I'm talking about Aaron Campbell, Kendra James, James Chasse—it's got to stop. My son is 10 years old and he's scared of the police."
Ward, who works as a crisis responder with the Portland Police Bureau, said there are renegade officers who "need to be flushed out."
The following morning before Jackson's visit, Police Chief Rosie Sizer defended her bureau, saying she thought community members expected "perfect outcomes" from her bureau, and that people and the media tend to "coalesce around tragedy."
The chief stood next to a pair of charts showing that citizen complaints against the bureau are down 48 percent since 2004, while officer-involved shootings are down 54 percent in the last six years compared to the previous six years.
But Sizer herself testified against Officer Frashour in federal court last September ["Not Policing Themselves," Oct 1, 2009]. The Mercury asked Sizer, that if even she thinks the officer is trigger happy what's to prevent the community from thinking that her policies and procedures are inadequate to bring "renegade officers" under control?
"I didn't call anybody trigger happy," Sizer responded. "We collect data on our people and we examine that data, and supervisors have access to that data as part of the bureau's early-warning system. I'm not sure what you mean by 'renegade officers.'"
Sizer said she hoped that Jackson could "bring healing to the family," adding that she didn't know if Jackson was "an expert on use-of-force issues."
"But before healing can happen," Jackson said to that evening's crowd, "you need to take the glass out of the wound."
The Albina Ministerial Alliance was already organizing a rally to be held on the Justice Center steps, when the Mercury went to press late on Tuesday night.
"Wednesday, February 17, 2010," read the announcement. The time? "Noon."