Tonight's community forum on the death of Kendra James is a strategic step in addressing the calls from citizens for an open hearing and relevant reform in the Portland Police Bureau.
There are several reasons why an open, public hearing is needed to air the essential facts of the case.
A democratic state is different from a police state. The citizens, through their elected representatives, control the police department. There are laws and policies that regulate police behavior and the police department's role in the criminal justice system. Citizens have a right to critique police in both the legal and political realm. The police do not have absolute power to act in an arbitrary way.
A democratic state is also founded on the principles that citizens have a right to know, participate in and petition their government. The secret grand jury system that heard the Kendra James case legally limits citizens' right to know all the essential facts of a case and narrowly focuses its inquiry on whether the officer's conduct was criminal.
Secondly, the death of a citizen at the hands of a police officer should always demand an open, exhaustive public inquiry. Whether the case has nearly 2,000 citizens demanding justice for James, or no advocates at all, it demands public inquiry.
In the James case, the gun of officer Scott McCollister killed an unarmed mother. There are clear inconsistencies in the story of officer McCollister and independent witnesses concerning whether his life was threatened, as well as some forensic evidence that contradicts his story.
Although the grand jury 'no bill' exonerated the officer of any criminal action, there are deeper questions about policy, police training, the integrity of the investigation and community policing.
It is important that both the rights of the officer and the rights of the victim be protected. There is an attempt by some to devalue the rights of Kendra James because of her drug addiction and past criminal record. The Christian faith and other major faith traditions believe that all life is sacred and valuable in the eyes of God, whether the person has a drug problem or serves as a police officer.
Furthermore, our constitutional legal system does not negate the value of James' life because of her drug addiction or past criminal record.
Finally, the community forum is one big step in healing and reconciling the community in Portland. Community policing cannot be fully achieved with the support of the people in the community. There's not enough police in any major city to effectively police a community without community support and cooperation.
Both historical and recent questionable police shootings have damaged the relationship of the Portland Police Bureau with the African-American and Latino communities, as well as with concerned citizens throughout Portland.
The failure of city officials, the police department and the criminal justice system to address and resolve the concerns articulated by the leaders and people of the African-American and Latino communities will sentence community policing to the graveyard and build a wall of mistrust and tension with the Portland Police Bureau.
The Rev. Roy Tate is president of the Albina Ministerial Alliance; the Rev. LeRoy Haynes is the organization's vice president.