Worth a Thousand Words 

Demonstration Video Gives City Council a Wake-Up Call

With a red bandana holding his hair back, Todd Kurylowicz sat serenely in front of city council two weeks ago and read a quote from Dr. King: "Somehow this madness must stop; we must stop it now."

It was Wednesday morning, when citizens present three-minute issue statements to city council. For the past several months, Kurylowicz has been using these open forums to offer his views on everything from homeless issues to police accountability. Two weeks ago, he had listed his agenda item as "re: social consciousness."

Ten months have passed since anti-war demonstrations erupted in Portland. For most people, when the news photos and footage from those anti-war demonstrations disappeared, their significance vanished as well. But Kurylowicz and a handful of activists are hoping to use the police tactics from last year's demonstrations to force the mayor to reexamine and, ultimately, change protocol.

After a brief and calm introduction, Kurylowicz lowered the lights in council chambers and showed several film clips. One clip shows officers nonchalantly pepper-spraying protesters as they scattered. Caught behind the police line, one woman crouched behind a street sign, hugging it for safety and frantically yelling, "peace, peace." With a pepper-spray canister in one hand and using his other to pry her fingers from the signpost, an officer tries to peel her away. He then pepper-sprays her for several seconds. It's a chilling image.

With council chamber eerily quiet, Kurylowicz showed a few more clips--these from a march against a fundraiser hosted in August by President Bush. One film clip shows an officer dragging a woman by her hair across a city park. The camera swings around just in time to catch another officer pouncing like a mountain lion onto a bicyclist. After three officers pull the protester from his bike, they dogpile on him and begin to slam him with their elbows.

At the end of the footage, Kurylowicz turned the lights back on and provided a quote from Katz herself about the inspiration that Dr. King had on her life and political motivations.

"I was going to participate in my community to make it more humane and more at peace," Kurylowicz read, attributing the optimistic words to Katz. He then looked directly at the mayor and leveled the pressing question at hand: "What kind of responsibility are you going to take for this?"

Visibly shaken, Katz kept her head down and called for the next agenda item. Although the next speaker was there to lobby for city council to stop the Pioneer Square post office from being bulldozed, he insisted on addressing the footage he had just watched. A Portland State University professor, Sam Oakland, said he was rattled by the images. As a student in 1970, he had filed a lawsuit against the city and the police for similar police abuses. At that time, he said, they were told the police would change their tactics. "And here we are 34 years later," he lamented.

Regardless, the images seem to have hit the bull's-eye. At a recent meeting at the Red & Black Café, Kurylowicz said the mayor had agreed to meet with them. "People know right from wrong," he explained. "The second we showed a video, it was, 'Let's meet.'"

Although the meeting does not yet appear on the mayor's schedule, Kurylowicz has been told it could happen this week. The activists say they are being reasonable and simply want peaceful demonstrations.

The police force has routinely blamed the strongarm tactics at demonstrations on "a few bad apples." To counter that argument, activists say they would like to have those officers disarmed or not allowed to attend protests. "Let's get the bad apples out of the barrel," one activist said.

Moreover, the activists believe there should be public and formal oversight regarding police training tactics, as well as a review of the equipment police are allowed to bring to demonstrations.

Anyone who would like more information about the proposals may contact kurlyy@hotmail.com.

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