Smell of Steve, Inc
Perhaps politics has always been about bullying. But ever since 9/11, politicians and policy makers have increasingly used fear to corner and silence opponents.

Locally, this threatening tactic has played out in regards to the Joint Terrorism Task Force--the collaboration between federal law enforcement agents and police officers. When city council was deliberating three years ago whether to reauthorize the Task Force, then-police chief Mark Kroeker flashed pictures of the burning Twin Towers to illustrate why Portland needed the group. It was a gross misuse of an isolated tragedy to sway broad policy.

At the time, city council unanimously accepted the argument that Portland needs to work with federal agents to monitor possible terrorists activities. But more recently, city council members have been questioning its necessity, and making demands for oversight. While these simple demands may seem like small potatoes, "questioning authority" could help turn the tide in politics nationwide. If Portland disbands the Task Force, or even asks for greater oversight, they will be the first city in the country to challenge the federal directive, and to stand up and demand proof instead of simply accepting what the FBI insists we should be afraid of.

The mayor and city council should be applauded for daring to open up a dialogue. But unsurprisingly, conservative forces in the city are not congratulating that effort, and are instead trying to shut it down with largely unsubstantiated claims and McCarthy-era politics.

Exactly who are the culprits? By name, they are: Bob Caldwell, the Oregonian's editorial page editor; city council member Dan Saltzman; and FBI Special Agent Robert Jordan, who has been spreading rumors there are Muslim terrorists in the Portland area who have "taken oaths to kill Americans," and yet is unwilling to share any details or provide one scrap of proof.

The Oregonian has backed up Jordan boldly (and without any inside information), stating that Jordan may know something about impending attacks, and that city council should simply shut up and follow the party line. In an editorial last Friday, they demanded that city council "take the hint" and "keep working with the FBI."

The Oregonian has also continued spreading its own rumors and fear. In an unsigned editorial last Wednesday, they attacked council member Randy Leonard, who has pledged to vote against the Task Force unless the mayor and police chief receive more oversight.

"Leonard and his fellow foot-draggers on the council say there isn't enough civilian oversight of the task force's work," the editorial reads. That statement alone has at least two inaccuracies: First, city council is not asking for "civilian" oversight, unless one considers the mayor and the police chief civilians. What Leonard is requesting is that both the mayor and police chief be allowed to have full access to the information gathered by police officers in connection to the Task Force; currently, they only receive limited information, at the discretion of the FBI.

The second deliberate misstatement is that Leonard is a "foot-dragger." When contacted by the Mercury, Bob Caldwell, the Oregonian's editorial page editor, was unable to adequately explain why they labeled Leonard as such. After stammering for several moments, Caldwell finally answered, "I think it referred to that [Leonard] was slow to decide."

That is clearly untrue. Leonard has been unequivocal about his demand for oversight. Furthermore, what could he possibly be foot-dragging on? Leonard has no power to schedule a vote on the Task Force; that is Potter's responsibility.

Tossing around claims and terms with no basis is a dangerous and unfair game to play; public policy and opinion should be based on facts not fear.

But perhaps the most surprising and tactless accusation over the Task Force came last week from city council member Saltzman. In an interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting, Saltzman stated: "Portland has a certain amount of people who just distrust authority, hate police, and still think the FBI is run by J. Edgar Hoover."

When contacted by the Mercury to find out specifically who Saltzman was talking about and why these people should not have a voice, Saltzman, at first, retreated from the statement, saying it was taken as a mere sound bite from a much longer interview. But then he reiterated the claim verbatim and unapologetically to the Mercury.

Again, when asked to exactly identify this group of "police haters," Saltzman was unable to specify, finally explaining he was referring to the group of residents who pack city council chambers every year when council votes on the Task Force.

This is an odd response for an elected official. Every year, a wide cross-section of the city packs council chambers to voice opposition to the Task Force, from ACLU lawyers to West Hill grandmas to black-clad activists. In years past, the opponents of the Task Force have outnumbered proponents by a ratio of roughly 10 to one. (Saltzman did specify that the ACLU was exempt from his accusation.)

For Saltzman to dismiss these residents' concerns as simply people who "hate the police" is a gross deficiency for someone who is elected to listen and represent concerns. The larger question should be, why do these people distrust the police? Is there a valid concern? And how should that play out with the city's connection to the Task Force? Perhaps full oversight of the Task Force would be a suitable solution to defuse these suspicions.

But Saltzman went on to tell the Mercury that he is satisfied with the level of security clearance.

The vote on the Task Force has yet to be scheduled. Currently both Leonard and council member Sam Adams have publicly stated their opposition to the current arrangement. Both Potter and councilor Erik Sten also have stated reservations. Saltzman is the only member of council who supports the Task Force without additional concessions for oversight.