Around 75 people met in front of City Hall this afternoon to protest the death of John Elifritz, a 48-year-old man who was reportedly in the midst of a mental health crisis when a group of Portland officers shot him to death Saturday, April 7. Elifritz died inside the Cityteam Ministries homeless shelter after he allegedly swung a knife at a police dog, but we're still waiting for an official investigation report from the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) of what caused officers to open fire.
"There is no reasonable explanation how a dozen well-trained professional police officers, who have all been trained in mental health intervention, would have made the decision that they made on Saturday," said Portland City Council candidate JoAnn Hardesty, addressing the crowd. Many in the group held handmade signs with messages like "Police the Police" and "Disarm Cops."
Jacob Quinones, a member of the Direct Action Alliance, noted that four of the twelve officers involved in Elifritz' shooting had numerous complaints against them, three of them for using excessive force against a person with a mental illness.
"This just keeps happening over and over again," Quinones said. "Why are they still on the force? When someone is a danger to the community, why do they keep sending them out to the community? It's a pretty easy problem to solve."
City Comissioner Chloe Eudaly was the only member of city council to come outside and watch the protest. Asked why, she replied: "I needed a breath of fresh air. These people are my constituents as much as anyone else in the city and I'm interested what they have to say."
Elifritz's death follows a recent budget request by Mayor Ted Wheeler's to add 93 more officers to the police force. To many, last weekend's shooting is a clear example why this shouldn't be Wheeler's priority.
"If the only answer that he has to the city's problems is to throw more men with guns at it, then that is a failure of leadership," said Juno Pa'lente, representing the Democratic Socialists of America.