UPDATE, July 21, 11:03 am:
Less than 24 hours after the publication of this article, PPB removed the video... because of copyright infringement:
The video is now, sadly, lost to history. But the analysis remains.
During this time of COVID-19 social distancing, it’s easier than ever to become fixated on bits of the world as viewed through a screen. Take, for example, my mild obsession with this video the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) tweeted out on Thursday, titled “Portland police get support, encouragement from community.”
The video has over 165,000 views, and at least 20 of those views are from me. I’ve watched it so many times that I got the soundtrack—a sparse, probably internet-sourced acoustic track that feels more like an “Error: Inspiration Not Found” message that an inspirational score—stuck in my head over the weekend.
It’s such a stunningly pathetic, finished-in-the-class-period-before-it-was-due attempt at propaganda that I had to study it frame-by-frame, if only to get it out of my mind. Let us consider it together.
The video opens with this kindergarten Thanksgiving hand turkey experiment gone wrong:
Message-wise, this image is important mostly because it establishes a theme that will be returned to several times in the 2:25 runtime of this off-brand Powerpoint presentation. That theme is one of religious righteousness, particularly that of the American Christian variety, which casts PPB officers as the hand-picked warriors of Jesus Christ (a man who was, we should note, killed by cops).
The video continues with exactly four (4) expressions of community support for PPB, including this Thank You card that I’m quite certain is actually repurposed hotel art:
After this smattering of pro-cop messages, the unhinged Instagram story that is this PPB video transitions to a minute-long speech by a PPB officer, and the music cuts out. It’s a daring artistic choice, sticking an extended monologue in between two thin montages. Perhaps it is meant to mimic the stretches of intermingling anxiety and boredom that come with protesting and COVID-19 life? Or maybe they just needed to pad the video’s length and make it look like PPB has more community support than it actually has—who’s to say!
After the officer’s remarks, the therapist waiting room music cranks back up, and there are a couple more handmade cards. There’s also this photo that I assume was taken back when Jami Resch was chief of police, meaning it’s now more than a month old.
Next up: scrolling text of entirely unattributed supportive messages! This must now be an early-aughts personal blog, because the fonts and backgrounds are not in agreement here:
We see a few more pro-PPB messages of unclear origin and timing, our soundtrack coughs up something like a crescendo, and the video wraps up. Are you overwhelmed by all that support and encouragement?
So, there we have it. It’s an aesthetics-deprived hack job, a lazy appeal to emotion and religion, a desperate bid to control the narrative about protests and policing that has already whirred past them. It’s more inept than it is menacing.
So why can’t I stop watching it? I think the answer might lie in the desperation: Why would a police bureau need to post something so utterly anemic, unless it came from a place of sincere panic over its own future?
In the last few days, the national press has been swarming to cover the federal police officers in Portland—and understandably so. But what they’re missing is that PPB officers have been indiscriminately tear gassing, shooting, and brutalizing protesters and journalists alike since these protests began over 50 days ago. Portland protesters make no secret of the fact that they want police abolition—or, at the very least, substantial cuts to PPB funding. They protest deliberately on police officers’ turf: the Multnomah County Justice Center, police precincts, and the union office for rank-and-file officers.
Faced with that existential threat, PPB’s media team scraped all the goodwill and moral certainty it could find at the bottom of some barrel and spat out this video.
How will this video read in a year, then? Maybe it will serve as a reminder of another failed attempt at reigning in the unchecked weight of PPB, something Portlanders have been trying to do for decades and decades. Or maybe, in retrospect, it will look like the flailing Hail Mary of a too-powerful institution that was finally dressed down to size.