Activists: Shooting stats only hint at problem
- Jim Redden
- Portland Tribune - News
Black leaders say James killing is further proof of poor police policies
Although the number of blacks killed by Portland police in the last 10 years is higher than the percentage of blacks living in the city, the rate is far below the national average.
Kendra James was the fourth and latest black person killed by police in Portland since 1993. She was shot and killed by officer Scott McCollister, who is white, during an early morning traffic stop May 5.
The killing has been denounced as proof of police racism at numerous protests, including a two-hour march May 24 through the heart of the black community in Northeast Portland.
Statistics show that since January 1993, Portland police have shot 37 whites, 10 blacks, seven Hispanics and one Native American. Of those, 13 whites, four blacks and one Hispanic died. No Asians or Native Americans have been killed by police in the last 10 years.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, blacks make up 7 percent of the city's population. Since January 1993, 18 percent of people shot by Portland police have been black. Twenty-two percent of those who died were black.
Nationwide, a recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that 35 percent of all people killed by police in 1998 were black. That is the last year for which figures are available in the report, titled 'Police and Homicide, 1976-1998.' Blacks make up about 12 percent of the nation's population.
The Rev. Roy Tate of the Albina Ministerial Alliance said the outrage is justified.
'That's a lot for us,' said Tate, pastor of the Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ in Northeast Portland. 'We are afraid of the police.'
Tate and other black leaders say the killings cannot be viewed in isolation. Instead, they say, the deaths are the result of police policies that unfairly target blacks for a variety of petty offenses, including traffic and curfew infractions.
Last year a police study found that 15 percent of all Portland police contacts with civilians involved blacks Ñ a rate that is more than twice their proportion of the population.
The three other blacks killed by police since 1993 were:
• Deontae Joseph Keller, who was shot in the back after reportedly emerging from a stopped car with a handgun on Feb. 28, 1996. Police later linked the gun to an earlier drive-by shooting.
• Aaron Aboul Rahmaan, who was shot in the head after allegedly shooting at police who tried to question him during a routine call on Jan. 27, 1998. Police said Rahmaan was wearing a bulletproof vest when he was killed.
• Byron Clay Hammick, who was shot while reportedly shaking a child in a Southeast Portland motel room on Feb. 22, 2002. Hammick had threatened to kill the child during a 911 call.
All of the fatal shootings were reviewed by Multnomah County grand juries, which declined to charge any officers with crimes.
Activists visit Salem
Although a month has passed since James was killed, the controversy is not going away.
Among other things, black and Hispanic activists are planning a trip to the state Capitol in Salem on Wednesday to call legislators' attention to the killing.
State law allows police to use deadly force to protect their lives or the lives of others and to prevent dangerous criminals from escaping. But the Rev. LeRoy Haynes Jr., of the Allen Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Northeast Portland, thinks that the laws give police too much leeway.
'Police have a vital role to play in our society, but they can't be allowed to kill people when they don't have to,' said Haynes, who believes that many police killings are not justified.
Haynes also said the activists will push to open grand jury hearings to the public. A Multnomah County grand jury declined to charge McCollister with any crime. Because grand jury deliberations are held in secret, many people are not sure that this was the right decision, Haynes said.
'The public has to be able to see what's going on,' he said.
A car caravan to Salem is scheduled to leave Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ, 1552 N. Killingsworth St., at 9 a.m. Wednesday. It is being organized by the Albina Ministerial Alliance, the Portland chapter of the Urban League, the Portland chapter of the NAACP and the Latino Network.
Mayor Vera Katz supports public reviews of the issues raised by the shooting, according to Communications Director Tommy Brooks.
'The mayor thinks we ought to compare the deadly force definition to other states. Maybe ours is too broad,' said Brooks, who added that Katz realizes that the secrecy of the grand jury also has had an impact on the community.
Police Chief Mark Kroeker also thinks that the policies should be reviewed. He has asked Deputy Chief Lynnae Berg to head up a newly formed Community Policing Organizational Review Team that will look at the bureau's policies and procedures on everything from training and recruiting to use of deadly force.
Kroeker is also open to the idea of the Oregon Legislature's looking at grand jury proceedings.
'I haven't seen the text (of the legislation), and I don't know exactly what's being proposed, but I do think it's a valid discussion,' Kroeker told a meeting of the Chief's Forum on Monday.
The shooting also prompted a Monday afternoon forum on the police use of deadly force. Organizer Lora Campos said the forum was designed to give people an opportunity to speak out about the killing.
'It's important for people to know their opinion counts. That's what democracy is all about,' she said.
The shooting has sparked a recall drive against Katz, who is also the city's police commissioner, by activists who claim that she is not controlling the police. Chief petitioner Marvin Moore accuses Katz of allowing officers to unfairly target minorities and political dissidents.
'In spite of numerous citizen complaints and lawsuits, the mayor has failed to make the police leadership rein in cops who get out of bounds,' Moore said. 'And now they've executed Kendra James on the spot for a petty crime.'
The committee has until late August to collect 29,877 valid voter signatures to force a recall election.
Katz dismisses recall organizers as extremists.
'I approach each issue based on its own merits and with a goal of doing what's best for all Portlanders. That's bound to irritate people entrenched on either of the far ends of the political spectrum.'
Different versions of the shooting have emerged in the last month. The incident was witnessed by seven people, including three police officers, the original driver and a passenger, and two people who were walking by when it occurred.
According to Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schrunk, officer McCollister told the grand jury he was partly inside the car when James tried to drive away. Schrunk said McCollister testified he shot James because he feared he would fall out and be run over by the car.
Four witnesses supported McCollister's version of the incident. According to police witness interviews submitted to the grand jury, officers Richard Bean and Kenneth Reynolds said McCollister was struggling with James inside the car when he shot her.
This version is partly supported by Terrol Jackson, who was driving the car when it was pulled over by Bean on North Skidmore Street. Jackson told investigators that two of the officers appeared to be hanging onto the moving car when the shot was fired.
'Yeah, they were running with the vehicle, and, you know, there's no way, if she gives it you know another É and she guns it É you know they can't hold on. They gonna get drug if they do try to continue to hold on, do you know what I mean?' he told investigators.
Witness Brician Williams agreed. Williams, who was walking across the Skidmore overpass at the time of the incident, said the shot was fired from 'in the car.'
But two witnesses said the shooting was unjustified. Passenger Darnell White said McCollister was standing outside the car when he fired the fatal shot. White, who was James' boyfriend, told investigators McCollister was 'like about 4 or 5 feet away or something.'
Witness Meilani Carruthers agreed. Carruthers, who was walking across the overpass with Williams, said the shot was fired 'about 4 feet away' from the car.
The Multnomah County medical examiner testified that he could not determine the distance between McCollister and James when the shot was fired.