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Police contract protesters dig in their heels

PORTLAND TRIBUNE: NICK BUDNICK - Protesters with Don't Shoot Portland marched Friday to Mayor Charlie Hales' home, calling for police reform.Under a steady drizzle on Friday, protesters erected two strings of tents facing Mayor Charlie Hales’ front lawn in Eastmoreland. The message was hard to miss: While the Portland police contract was approved earlier last week amid protests at City Hall, the political backlash may not be going away anytime soon.

“If we can’t be comfortable, you can’t be comfortable,” Greg McKelvey, organizer with the group Don’t Shoot Portland, said into a bullhorn directed at Hales’ empty house. The crowd began chanting “Charlie, resign now!”

On Oct. 12, the Portland City Council approved a police contract in the hope of addressing a staffing crisis at the Portland Police Bureau that has sapped special units, contributed to longer response times, and left gaping holes in police coverage on certain shifts.

But in exchange for the hefty 9 percent raises officers received, police critics — including some under the banner of Black Lives Matter — were hoping to extract bigger concessions in police oversight. The officers’ union did settle grievances that could give police managers more leeway to issue discipline in the future, but the biggest concession was a change that some cops say is largely symbolic — elimination of the 48-hour rule limiting when officers can be interviewed about incidents.

Perhaps even more controversial was how the city handled the protests of the contract. For the second week in a row, the City Council had to exclude the public from its vote — a move that likely violates state law. And the police actions in ejecting protesters from City Hall on Oct. 12 are now under federal Department of Justice review, as first reported by The Oregonian.

The protesters, mainly affiliated with Don’t Shoot Portland, now hope to build on the week’s events, through a combination of lawsuits and more protests.

The Hales’ encampment started out as a march Friday on Southeast Milwaukie Avenue that had a secret destination. It lasted until Saturday afternoon when protesters became unnerved at the prospect of the weekend’s stormy weather knocking a tree onto their tents.

The goal was not just to get Hales’ attention. It was intended to channel the energy created by the Oct. 12 clash at City Hall, said Teressa Raiford of Don’t Shoot Portland. “Part of bringing everybody together is giving them the follow-up on what happened (Wednesday),” she said.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE: NICK BUDNICK - Protesters erected tents outside Mayor Charlie Hales' house Friday to protest a new police contract, vowing to continue their activism indefinitely.Specifically, she and other organizers told protesters that the group is working with lawyers and may try to file a class-action lawsuit on behalf of protesters injured. Meanwhile, other groups are exploring filing a lawsuit to overturn the council vote on the police contract.

They are trying to launch a recall effort against City Commissioner Nick Fish, one of two votes Hales needed to pass the contract.

Meanwhlie, the protests will continue. McKelvey said the group will camp out once again at Hales’ house this Friday, and possibly for many Fridays to come.

Hales’ term will be up in January. McKelvey said despite the location, the protest isn’t just aimed at him. It’s also aimed at his replacement, Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler, and others.

“We want to send a message to Wheeler and all politicians, that it doesn’t matter when your term is up, (that) doesn’t mean that you can do whatever you want without the people noticing it and fighting against it,” he said.

Some among the protesters have used tactics of disruption to interrupt council meetings, swearing, yelling and heckling, leading to the council’s recent decisions to meet away from the public.

But while city officials cite the protesters’ actions as justification for moving behind close doors, Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch says the city had the option to exclude all of those disrupting the meetings, but didn’t.

He says the real problem is that the city stopped taking public comment on the contract, a move he blames for the disruptions.

“Until the city starts coming to its senses, I think it’s going to continue,” he said of the protests. “I think it’s going to get worse because they’ve shown they don’t have a commitment to listen to the community.”

Some officials say they have listened, however. Commissioner Amanda Fritz had solicited input from the protesters and was considered a possible swing vote on the contract. On Wednesday, while voting in favor of the deal, she said she had investigated many of their concerns, only to find many of them unfounded.

Of the concern that the contract allows officers to delay being interviewed in order to review body-camera footage, she said, “That is simply not true.”

As for one provision under the contract allowing the police chief to hire back retirees, Fritz rejected activists’ critique that retired and older officers are more likely to be out of touch with the community.

“I find it unbelievable that any chief ... would invite criticism by hiring back officers who are not trusted by the community,” she said.