Over the past eight days of protests in Portland, city officials have been pressed to clarify their stance on police violence, both against individual people of color and massive crowds of protesters. From Mayor Ted Wheeler, we've heard promises to halt the use of "crowd control" agents—like tear gas and military-grade sonic cannons. From Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, we've heard a pledge to defund three Portland Police Bureau (PPB) programs with a history of discrimination and violence toward people of color. From Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, we've heard demands to de-militarize PPB's response to protests and declare racism in Portland a "public health emergency." From Commissioner Amanda Fritz we've heard... not a lot.
But what about those vying to be Portland's newest city officials?
Mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone has publicized an extensive document detailing police policy reforms she would introduce if elected in November, including a ban on police using knee-to-neck chokeholds (like the one that killed George Floyd) and prohibiting the use of chemical weapons at protests. Iannarone has also attended several of the week's protests.
We haven't heard a lot from others running for city office, however. Last week, we spoke with the three non-incumbent candidates running for Portland City Council about where they stand on protests, policing, and Black lives in Portland. Here's what they had to say (and, for the sake of context during a rollercoaster week, when they said it).
Mingus MappsCandidate for Portland City Council, Position 4
(Mapps is running against sitting Commissioner Eudaly)
Excerpts from a phone call with the Mercury on Monday, June 1:
On this moment in history: "This is a complex and tragic moment... and a weird curveball for me in many ways. That's because I have skin in this game as an African American with two African American sons and I am trying to lead the city forward in a better future. Yesterday, I went for a run through downtown Portland to see where we are as a city. It's a sad site. Downtown is a canyon of plywood, and littered with broken glass and graffiti. I've been talking with business owners who have storefronts downtown. It's hard, because I feel for those people. I also feel for the demonstrators."
On accountability: "One thing I think is really important at this moment is that we demand accountability from both institutions and individuals. It's incredibly important to hold police accountable for racism. I know what it's like to be a Black man who is over-policed. I understand the frustration, and I see two ways Black Americans show that frustration. One way is to be angry and alienated, another is to be engaged and constructive. I am trying to model the engaged and constructive part of this by holding institutions and individuals accountable."
On protesting: "I'm really calling on Portlanders to reject violence. Racism is built on a culture of violence, whether it's actually executed or implied. I think we must embrace a narrative that transcends violence. Violence is not going to get us there. In some ways I am deeply uplifted by people out there to come out and protest and feel their rage about the killing and beating and arrest of Black men. At the same time, smashing the skateboard shop down the street from my house does not liberate me or make Portland safer for me and my kids. It only fuels a culture of fear and hate. It's hard. My blood boils when I hear these stories... I could be a bird watcher, I jog. It could be me lying on the street. What I hope we can do as a city is to imagine new ways of coming together. That's why I support community policing. The more we take ownership of that, the safer we'll be."
On what's next: "Protesting is the beginning of the conversation, but if we don't follow through and come up with solutions. I made a point of interacting with police. Instead of running away from police, I try to know who they are. There are many problems with the "all cops are bastards" political position, but most of all, it doesn't give you anywhere to go. There's no... 'and then what.' We have to look forward. I urge Portlanders not to just show up on weekends when we protest, but come out Thursday night when we have meetings about how we reform police."
Loretta SmithCandidate for Portland City Council, Position 2
Excerpts from a phone call with the Mercury on Tuesday, June 2:
On this moment in history: "A lot of what we're talking about right now isn't news for Black people in Portland. I raised my Black son by myself, as a single parent. As soon as he got his license, my son was pulled over in my SUV by the police, since they didn't think he should be driving that nice of a car. I always taught him, if you get stopped by the police, you do everything they tell you. You talk to them slowly, you don't talk back, you don't question it. You can't question it. He's 30 now, and I still worry about him being stopped by police... every day. That fear never goes away for a mother of a Black man. And hearing George Floyd call out for his mother in that video... yeah. That was painful for me."
On the city's response... "I don't believe calling the National Guard to Portland was the right thing to do. I felt like we needed to have a real conversation, and bringing the military in here wasn't going to help that. I also didn't support the [8 pm] curfew the mayor introduced. To have a broad suspension of constitutional rights while people are fighting for police accountability, because the police can't handle a few people causing damage... that's not right."
On the damage to downtown businesses... "I saw the broken windows and the looting, yes. Did [those protesters] go too far? Yes they went too far. But if you look at history, and see moments where progress was made, it's not always tidy. People have had to show a great disdain for what was happening to see a system change. That can be violent."
On what's next... "This is an opportunity for us to show some leadership in this community. We want to make sure that Black and Brown boys can thrive as well. Thats something I always led with while on the [Multnomah County] Board of Commissioners. But we also have to be honest with ourselves—Portland is a big city that is still working with a small public safety department. That needs to change." [Editor's Note: Smith clarified that "change" means refocusing where PPB are putting their efforts, not expanding the police bureau.]
Dan RyanCandidate for Portland City Council, Position 2
Excerpts from a phone call with the Mercury on Tuesday, June 2:
On this moment in history: "I've been completely in awe. What you're seeing out there is predominately a very youthful and very fired up movement. I'm seeing more and more leadership from African American youth, with white and brown allies by their side. It's absolutely beautiful to witness such solidarity in the protests and to see that the vast majority of the people have remained peaceful. I've been involved in many, many protests in my time. When you're my age and you see young people still at the forefront of these movements, it's incredible."
On the city's response... "It's always more impactful if you, as a leader in a position of authority, take time to truly listen and lean into the movement. I wasn't in favor of the curfew and was pleased to hear the mayor lifted it. I was also not in favor of the National Guard coming in. For me, it has a triggering effect, based on watching what happened at Kent State as a kid. Hearing they were being called in escalated my own fear. I don't think escalating fear when there is already a heightened fear of the police in the community is a good idea. I have found the tone from the PPB to be measured and calm and responsive to protesters in a way I have not witnessed too often, and that gives me hope." [Editor's Note: A reminder that this conversation took place before PPB officers began using tear gas and munitions on protesters.]
On what's next... "There's a lot of despair and people are frustrated on multiple levels. We need to listen to that. We need to look at public safety through a more holistic lens. I think the police department can still be part of the system, as long as we're able to make meaningful reforms. We're getting an opportunity to move in that direction right now like never before. We have to seize that moment. I know the Portland Police Association (PPA) contract is current up for negotiation, and I look forward to being part of that process. It's a time to dive into practices and documentation that's included in the contract. Often we rush to the compensation part of the contract, but there are other issues that too often get ignored. It's a time to negotiate."