By Erin Ergenbright

Last Wednesday, the brand-spanking-new Northwest Constitutional Rights Center (NWCRC) filed the first of many forthcoming lawsuits against the City of Portland and the Portland Police Bureau. Addressing a crowd of 40 people in front of City Hall, attorney Alan Graf, NWCRC's spokesperson, said the police have "systematically acted to intimidate both protesters and press from exercising their rights under the First Amendment."

A dignified man in a gray bowler derby, Graf said, "We'll file lawsuits again and again until we finally break the city, or they change their behavior." He added, "that's called behavior modification."

Graf said the Independent Police Review Division (IPR) and its accompanying Citizens Review Committee (CRC) have proven to be abysmal failures. Those organizations were formed to act as cop watchdogs and to review complaints about police abuses.

"The mayor and the city council have basically advocated irresponsibility, which is why [we've] put together a private, non-profit organization which will do the work that city council is supposed to do," Graf said.

A project of the Portland chapter of the National Lawyers' Guild, NWCRC was born from the civil rights abuses of Bush's visit last August. Intending to specifically address shortcomings with police accountability, NWCRC's first lawsuit represents Miranda May, William Ellis, and Randy Lyon, all who claim they were abused during last year's protest at a Senator Gordon Smith fundraiser which President Bush attended.

In addition to lawsuits, NWCRC has begun keeping files on individual police officers who have allegedly peppersprayed or otherwise silenced protesters.

Graf's press conference coincided with an announcement that Denise Stone, CRC's co-chair, was resigning. Four other CRC members, including chairperson Hector Lopez and the outspoken T.J. Browning, also resigned. The CRC was designed almost two years ago to give citizens an opportunity to oversee the review of alleged police abuses, but CRC members have routinely complained that they have little or no real power whatsoever. Another member also resigned last week for unrelated reasons, leaving only three of nine CRC members in place.

To contact the NWCRC, call Alan Graf at (503) 452-2375 or email peopleslawyer