Victims of racial profiling will probably not be happy with Mayor Tom Potter this week. On Thursday, October 19, the mayor will most likely delay the formation of a commission that would tackle the problem, thereby ignoring a crucial recommendation of a report on racial profiling he commissioned earlier this year.
The report—prepared by Oregon Action, in partnership with the Portland Police Bureau, Center for Intercultural Organizing, and the Northwest Constitutional Rights Center (NWCRC)—recommends that "No later than December 2006, the Portland City Council should convene a commission whose role is to monitor data collection, review internal policies, and take community input to eliminate racial profiling."
But the mayor would prefer to wait until April 2007, at the earliest, to tackle the issue, and he plans to do so on his terms: He wants to resurrect Portland's Human Rights Commission—disbanded in 1998—and make racial profiling its first project.
"The question is, do you have a separate, standing commission to address racial profiling or do you say this is an issue logically addressed by a standing commission, focused on issues that are important to the public?" says the mayor's spokesman, John Doussard.
The mayor will clarify his position when the report is officially presented to council on Thursday afternoon. But his office is under pressure to stick to the timelines set out in the report, and not to distract from instigating real change by pondering for five extra months over how to bring the right parties to the table.
Making racial profiling a sub-project of the Human Rights Commission is not a problem for the authors of the report. Oregon Action Director Jo Ann Bowman says the 21 organizations she would like to be involved in tackling racial profiling—including the police union, Portland Copwatch, and Albina Ministerial Alliance—could work as a committee of the Human Rights Commission. But Bowman is adamant they get to the table quickly: Stalling the process could cause it to lose valuable momentum built over the past seven months.
"My fear is that connecting a racial profiling commission or group to a human rights commission that doesn't exist yet could be challenging," says Bowman. "We've got all the right players in place and I'd hate for the process to be stymied."
City Commissioner Randy Leonard met with Bowman last Friday, and shares her concern. "I'm anxious that racial profiling might get lost in city hall's digestive system," he says.
"The mayor needs to be careful not to waste time reinventing the wheel on this," says another of the report's co-authors, NWCRC Executive Director Alejandro Queral. He thinks it is unnecessary for the mayor to spend a proposed $60,000 resurrecting the Human Rights Commission when his racial profiling planning team has already identified a key human rights issue of its own.
"Delaying this would be city council thumbing its nose at the work of a lot of people who have really put their trust and faith in us to make this happen," he says.
Maria Rubio, policy manager at the mayor's office, has been negotiating with Bowman over the report and says the Human Rights Commission has been in the works for almost two years. She thinks Bowman's goal to get the racial profiling "commission" off the ground by December is "a pretty aggressive timeline," and the latest communications from the NWCRC are now floating January 2007 as a possibility.
"If the racial profiling committee begins its work in January, I can see a nice seamless transition into the human rights commission later in the year," Rubio says.