End Institutional Racism Now
“Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” -Emma Lazarus
At the time of this website’s launch, downtown Portland is being rocked by nearly sixty consecutive nights of protests against police brutality, to which our local and federal authorities have responded with further escalating tactics instead of listening to the voices of the unheard. Conflicts like this do not happen in a vacuum – they are the result of years, decades, even centuries of social and economic strife faced by marginilized members of society. What is becoming clear is that refusing to dress a wound and letting it become infected over time, is just as damaging as pouring salt over it.
A safe society needs first responders to be available for civilian emergencies, but not every one of those first responders needs to be armed to kill. Instead of dispatching police officers to every single emergency situation, each city or county should have a cadre of trained (and unarmed) social workers and mental health experts at its disposal, whose primary objective is de-escalation, not domination.
Additionally, I believe that if a police officer is allowed to execute a potential suspect in the street before said suspect ever stands trial, then that executed person is denied their right to due process of the law, as outlined in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, the death of any civilian (whether suspected of a crime or not) at the hands of law enforcement officers must be investigated by an independent committee made up entirely of randomly-selected civilians, none of whom may be former police officers and at least half of whom must be women and/or Persons of Color. Accountability to the public is sorely missing from our current policing system, and I believe this is a good first step toward acheiving it.
Empowering Black Oregonians
In its early years, the state of Oregon was heralded by some as a utopia for white Americans. Article II, Section 06 of Oregon’s original 1857 constitution states the following: “No Negro, Chinaman, or Mulatto shall have the right of suffrage.” Black Americans were explicitly barred from living here, and only within the last hundred years or so have they been legally allowed to own property within the state.
Was this original state constitution a product of its time? Sure. But when we look at the Black experience of living in Oregon today, it is easy to see that this historical racism has not been eradicated, merely transformed. In Portland, waves of gentrification have priced most Black residents out of historically-Black neighborhoods, leaving them with fewer job opportunities, longer commutes, more exposure to crime, and underfunded schooling.
These are deep wounds which cannot be healed simply by having a handful of Black Oregonians elected to the legislature or other local government bodies. To acheive an equitable and thriving society, representation must be accompanied by a redistribution of resources into impoverished communities, granting resiliancy and opportunity to every neighborhood, no matter who lives there. Schools, small businesses, and community centers run by BIPOC residents should be recognized as a source of pride, and a step forward in the right direction, for a community.