WHILE PROTESTORS took to Portland's streets in recent weeks to demand police reform, Michael Meo has carried out his own campaign.
A three-time congressional candidate and retired high school teacher, 67-year-old Meo has been sitting in the antechamber of Mayor Charlie Hales' offices on and off since December 1. He doesn't speak much—an agreement he reached with staffers the first day of his vigil. More importantly, he doesn't eat.
While Meo has steadfastly avoided much contact with the mayor, he says he'll hunger strike until Hales performs a "substantive act" on police reform. Just what that constitutes is something of a moving target. Meo initially called on the mayor to follow a series of recommendations from the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, which has asked, in part, for an independent citizen commission to oversee the police. Meo's since said he'll end the fast if Portland pulls out of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force, a move city council will consider next month.
The sit-ins have rankled the mayor's office, which has had Meo arrested twice after he refused to leave. He's facing three trespassing charges as a result, and a judge has ordered him to stay out of the office (Meo returned to his perch on the third floor of city hall directly after that ruling).
Hales' chief spokesman, Dana Haynes, acknowledges Meo mostly sits quietly, but says he's also been "disruptive" at times. "He's not been terribly polite," Haynes says. "We asked him at some point: 'Could you not sit here?' He said, 'No.'"
The Mercury accompanied Meo to his arraignment on two of the trespassing charges on December 11. This is part of our conversation.
MERCURY: Why do this?
MICHAEL MEO: It is a long time coming. The mayor lies about everything. He has run on a platform that he is going to pull in and restrain the police. That was his signature issue. So what does he do? Nothing! Absolutely nothing.
What would you call his efforts around shepherding the city's settlement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ)?
The department of justice suit comes in, and 30 members of the community say that the DOJ agreement is insufficient for real police accountability. And the judge—in answer to these 30 members of the public, who are pretty persuasive—says, 'Once a year, I'm going to just see whether you're really carrying out the agreement,' which is just, you know, the minimum. In any case, it's a reasonable thing. And the city council unanimously objects. Really? That's how you're going to shake up the police department? By unanimously getting the city council to refuse the judge's order?
That was a while ago. Was there a sequence of events that led you to start this now?
The appeal is the kicker. A lying politician saying he's going to approve police accountability, and then acting in such a manner to do exactly the opposite. The Albina Ministerial Alliance for years has been tugging their forelock. Their instincts are all to collaborate and cooperate. These guys are doing everything they can to work within the system, and what do they get? They get kicked in the teeth repeatedly. So I'm sorry. I'm no longer going to go within the system.
How long have you been fasting?
December 1 was my first day.
And it's been just liquids?
It's coffee with cream and sugar, fruit juice ad libitum, a little bit of milk, but no more than a shot glass.
How do you feel?
I'm vertical. I managed to get here by bicycle.
You have sat in the mayor's antechamber for how many days?
Well, not every single day. There are some days I have to have, you know, a dental appointment. But I've sat in for the better part of two weeks. I still haven't eaten as of 9 am on the first of December. I have been sitting in the mayor's office maybe seven of those 11 days. And not a short time. We're talking all afternoon.
Notice the contrast between what Teressa Raiford [an organizer of the police accountability protest group Don't Shoot Portland] gets as action from the mayor. They can sit in front of the office and shout and scream, and then he'll cycle them in.
Part of this is that you don't want to talk to the mayor, but you want action from him.
That's correct. You give me a substantive act, and I can start eating.
What led to your arrest?
On the third or fourth day of sitting, Charlie Hales made the decision not to have me there. He was in conversation with the arresting officer.
And at that point you were just sitting?
I have acted as I agreed on the first day. I do not disrupt the office. Most all the time I sit there mute. I have lots of reading. Do you want me to show you? [Brandishes a copy of the New Testament in Latin, which he can read.]
You've now been arrested twice. Is there a pattern to what leads them to call the police?
They made the effort to discourage me from being a concerned citizen. I was arrested yesterday at 11:37 am and I was back in my seat by 3:15 pm.
Do you have any confidence that the mayor will make your changes, or do you plan on dying?
I think we should wait for Christmas. Let's see what happens after the New Year when I am at 30 days. I won't be dying until around Lincoln's birthday [February 12].