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Feud erupts over activism style

As protests and opposition to a proposed police contract paralyzed City Hall last week, the most heated words were directed not at the city but between two prominent Portland activists.

On Oct. 5, uniformed police officers were locking down City Hall after Mayor Charlie Hales cut off a City Council hearing following disruptions by critics of the contract. But with police swarming, as the council chambers were populated by less than two dozen activists and a few reporters, a dispute broke out between Teressa Raiford of Don’t Shoot Portland and Jo Ann Hardesty of the Portland NAACP, two of the most prominent police accountability activists in Portland.

The rift is significant because it comes even as critics of police have obtained a measure of success, decorating City Hall with a Black Lives Matter banner, forcing the delay of a hearing on the contract, and causing police to back away from the mass arrests that at one point seemed possible. Video of the clash has gone viral in Portland’s activist community — not just the clash with city officials but between the two activists.

Hales and other supporters of the contract say its 9 percent raises for officers will help address a growing shortage of police that has boosted response times. Critics of the contract question aspects of a draft body- camera policy negotiated with the union and say the city didn’t extract enough concessions.

Despite sharing similar critiques of the contract, Raiford and Hardesty exchanged insults in City Council chambers as they sat a few seats away from one another. The exchange closed with Raiford saying something about Hardesty going to jail.

“The only way I’ll be in jail is if I whip your ass,” Hardesty said. “That might happen.”

Last week Hardesty and Raiford were expressing very similar positions on police issues. Both called for a delay in the police contract, saying Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler should take it on.

But the two strong, African-American leaders represent different generations and a different approach.

Jo Ann Hardesty, formerly Jo Ann Bowman, served as an aide to former Multnomah County Chair Bev Stein before winning a House seat in the Oregon Legislature. She’s served as the director of Oregon Action and now is a consultant, in addition to serving as president of the local NAACP.

Raiford, a St. Johns activist who also does consulting, gained prominence after her nephew was shot downtown. She ran unsuccessfully against County Commissioner Loretta Smith in 2014 and became a leader of Don’t Shoot Portland during protests following the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in August of that year.

But while Hardesty has become well-known within the halls of the state Capitol, City Hall and Multnomah County headquarters for her lobbying and activism, Raiford has gravitated toward more aggressive street protests, including some in which participants have openly called for violence against police officers.

The council hearing was a microcosm of their stylistic differences. Hardesty offered pointed criticism in testifying about the contract. But, after testifying, she for the most part sat quietly in the audience, observing as other audience members aligned with Raiford interrupted proceedings, yelled and cursed at members of the council.

Then, after Hales shut down the meeting, Raiford started making comments about Hardesty, accusing her of “false testimony.”

Hardesty said, “Girlfriend, you’re the new kid on the block.”

“I don’t need false representation,” Raiford fired back.

“I would not try to represent you,” Hardesty responded. “You are out of your mind. You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

Later, outside council chambers, Hardesty said the differences between the two dated back for years and included a different approach.

“I work inside and out,” Hardesty said. “But I don’t cuss people out, I don’t threaten police officers. That’s how I roll.”

As for the disruptions of the Oct. 5 hearing, Hardesty said she “totally disagrees” with audience members’ loud and often vulgar approach, but blamed Hales for cutting off public testimony, which she called “totally unacceptable.” Gesturing toward Raiford and her fellow critics, Hardesty said “it’s totally unacceptable the way they’ve been acting like idiots, but I understand the frustration.”

Raiford, for her part, said Hardesty has not helped Don’t Shoot Portland win grants, and said the NAACP has not been helpful in other ways. At an NAACP event, Hardesty acknowledged then-Chief Larry O’Dea but not Don’t Shoot Portland, Raiford said.

She said Hardesty is well-known to politicians and government employees, but not to the African-American community. “The leaders in our communities have not represented the needs of the community.”

Hardesty, meanwhile, says she approached Raiford to talk about a joint legislative agenda, only to have Raiford tell her Don’t Shoot Portland already had its own agenda. Hardesty characterized the responses as “New kid on the block already has all the answers.”

The council was scheduled to vote on the contract Wednesday, after this issue went to press.