Stop me if you've heard this one:
A Portland citizen dies presumably at the hands of local cops in a completely preventable, utterly unnecessary way. The community is outraged and emotionally shaken, as everyone can see how easily—given only slightly different circumstances—the corpse could have been them or someone they love. But the man at the top of the responsibility ladder, the man whose job it is to talk the community down off the ledge, to ensure us that there will be accountability and reforms that lessen the chance of this ever happening again, a man named Tom Potter, is out of the country on vacation.
And not only is Mayor Potter on vacation, he doesn't even respond until more than a week later, at which point he explains that his staff didn't inform him of the death until days after it occurred.
Sound familiar? It should. This was the scenario following the death of James Chasse last month, and it was a scenario that happened 14 years ago, when Potter was chief of police, and a 12-year-old boy named Nathan Thomas—who had been taken hostage by an assailant—was killed by police bullets. At the time, Potter was vacationing in Mexico and didn't return until more than two weeks after the shooting. He said the hotel he was staying in didn't have a phone, and that he didn't find out about it for 11 days. But then, when he was running for mayor in 2004, he revealed to Willamette Week that his hotel did have a phone, and that he found out sooner than he let on.
In Chasse's case, Potter was in Germany, and when he finally opened his mouth, he blamed his staff for not telling him. Even worse, Potter ignored the glaring issues of possible police brutality, deflecting the blame to a lack of resources and training in the handling of people with mental health problems.
Now, it's not my position to tell the mayor how to do his job, but—as you've probably already guessed—I won't let that stop me. Perhaps, your honor, when a man dies a brutal death in police custody, when he suffocates because all of his ribs have been pulverized, when he dies in the back of a cruiser because the officers didn't think to use the ambulance that was already on the scene, your staff should probably wake you up long enough to clue you in. And then you, as the elected leader of this city, should do more than issue a couple of blanket statements over three weeks. The members of the community, not to mention the victims, deserve better.
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