First published on The Big Smoke.
April 19, 2021
On Friday, Portland, Oregon, police murdered an unarmed man who had no home, had expressed a long-time (unfortunately validated) fear of cops, and who may have been experiencing a mental health crisis. They were responding to a call about a different man possibly experiencing a mental health crisis in Lents Park. The cops fired impact munitions at Robert Douglas Delgado’s body and prevented anyone from offering medical attention until seven and a half minutes after police shot him (four minutes after arriving at the scene) almost five full minutes after he finally stopped moving, attacked with chemical weapons those who gathered to mourn the victim and protest his murder, and ate pizza over the corpse which they left lying in the grass for hours while they tried to “find” the gun they claimed was in his hand when they shot him. (Some reports before the fact that they had shot the “wrong” man was released, included the existence of a replica handgun, but cops are known to carry those to drop at a scene when they’ve murdered yet another unarmed person. Three days after the shooting, police produced a photograph of a toy handgun with an orange tip identifying it as fake that they allegedly found at the scene. Audio released at the same time “does not indicate that Delgado had a gun — or replica gun — in his hand at the time he was shot. … none of the officers on the ground say they see a gun in Delgado’s hand before” shooting him.)
This all took place:
- after police in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, murdered 20-year-old Daunte Wright in front of his girlfriend during a traffic stop and then brutally attacked those who rallied to protest his death and the reporters who covered those protests;
- before a “trigger happy” cop placed on administrative leave for sexually abusing a child murdered three people in Austin, Texas;
- during the same week that Chicago police finally released the video showing how many times and how many ways they lied about their murder of 13-year-old Adam Toledo;
- while Derek Chauvin’s defense attorneys did their best to put his victim, George Floyd, on trial for Floyd’s own murder including smearing him with false overdose theories and other lies.
For reference, Brooklyn Center police — who shot at protesters from tanks and continued using tear gas and other “crowd control munitions” after the Brooklyn Center’s city council passed a resolution “banning dangerous crowd-control tactics including the use of rubber bullets, tear gas, and protester kettling” – gained national recognition as a “police reform model” last summer.
In Portland, a federal judge found in February of 2020 that the police department was in “substantial compliance” with a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice reached after DOJ found officers often used excessive force on people who were experiencing a mental health crisis. Portland recently launched a pilot program in Lents — the Portland Street Response team — which is supposed to answer calls for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis rather than police. The Portland Street Response was not sent to the scene because the caller (possibly a member of a group notorious in Lents for attacking the houseless and which organized a “back the blue” rally the day after the murder) claimed that a man “acting erratically” had a gun. It also should be noted that the murderer, Zachary Delong, has expressed support for Michael Brown’s killer Darren Wilson and that Delong’s boss, East Precinct Commander Erica Hurley, is under investigation by the Secretary of State for violating Oregon law last month. In addition, Portland Police are currently under investigation by the DOJ for brutal attacks on protesters, failing to file use of force reports, and using flawed, possibly unconstitutional logic to clear themselves of alleged misconduct.
All of the above represents just a few of the incidents that occurred in less than a week of egregious police malfeasance and murder in the United States of America.
Over and over again, politicians at federal, state, and municipal levels play the “reform” game. They pass laws, enact codes, and implement policies which police then ignore, fight in court, and/or claim are in violation of their contracts. Most of the time, even if the police obeyed them, the laws/code/policies changes touted by reform politicians won’t even prevent the most egregious violence and brutality that police inflict. The U.S. House of Representatives’ so-called “Floyd Act”, passed March 3rd, “could not have even saved George Floyd’s life” or all those police have murdered since Floyd died, begging for his life, on May 25th, 2020.
Portland is preparing to revive, yet again, the racially biased, ever name changing Gang Enforcement Team (GET) Gun Violence Reduction Team (GVRT) Focused Intervention Team without ever discussing with those who experience and understand the causes of gun violence whether or not this program offers any solutions. “Adding more police is like putting sugar on shit. It makes it taste a little better, but it’s not really changing anything. You may prevent murders, but you won’t stop the problem. You’re just going to have a lot more guys in jail… a lot more families without fathers. Then what?” asks Mike “Bretto” Jackson, former gang member who’s now a hip hop artist and youth mentor.
Meanwhile, using gun violence as an excuse, the agencies that claimed deputizing local law enforcement as federal officers last year was only temporary have announced a “gun violence collaboration” that includes Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt, who ran for office as a progressive reformer. Collaborating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), Portland and Gresham police and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office “entered into a voluntary agreement … to “deputize a small contingent of local law enforcement officers”.
Because Portland public officials don’t understand, or refuse to acknowledge, that correlation does not equal causation. In reality, gun violence spiked across the country during the pandemic, resulting in overall gun homicides at the highest rate in more than 20 years. “The COVID-19 pandemic worsened many of the underlying conditions that contribute to community gun violence risk — poverty, unemployment, food and housing insecurity, ” according to Nicole Kravitz-Wirtz, who researches violence prevention at the University of California.
One of the centerpieces of reform is the call to require police to wear body cameras. But there has been no reduction in police violence as more and more departments spend millions of dollars incorporating this requirement and citizens with smart phones fill the Internet with videos of egregious police conduct. And we have a multitude of video evidence of police brutally attacking and maiming the thousands of people who gather to protest police behavior, no matter how peaceful.
“Rather than thinking that they ought to be chastened by being caught on tape beating, tear-gassing, and pepper-spraying protesters, perhaps doing all this in full view of the public is the point. They’re not afraid of being filmed, because being filmed simply reinforces the central theme: If you come to protest, an action that explicitly challenges the order and my place in it, this is the consequence,” Patrick Wyman wrote last June. It’s “about sending a message: Try to hold us accountable, and we’ll find you. Whether the violence is real or merely threatened, the goal is public acknowledgement of this order, rooted in racial inequality and the protection of property.”
Mass arrests of protesters across the country are “all about intimidation” of people who vocally oppose police brutality, said Detroit Will Breathe organizer Tristan Taylor. “It says something about the nature of policing when that’s a uniform tactic.” The vast majority of citations and charges against protesters were ultimately dropped, dismissed, or otherwise not filed, but “police response created this whole additional public health crisis that wasn’t something people talked about much, but, in the moment, that was one of the biggest issues we were concerned about,” said Tyler Crawford, the National Lawyers Guild director of mass defense.
Reform is not possible when, as Colin Kaepernick stated in his introduction to a 30-part series demanding abolition, “The central intent of policing is to surveil, terrorize, capture, and kill marginalized populations, specifically Black folks.” He echoes the words of Huey P. Newton, Black Panther Party co-founder, “The police are in our community not to promote our welfare or for our security or our safety, but they are there to contain us, to brutalize us, and murder us.”
Organizations with roots in capturing and punishing Africans who attempted to escape carceral slavery, whose members ignore the law themselves while using it to capture, incarcerate, and kill those who are not white, cis, straight, able-bodied, males — or otherwise do not fit in what their limited worldview defines as citizen — cannot be reformed. They must be abolished.