What: A meeting today at 10:30am, occurred between Portland Police Chief Reese, Commander Day, several other officers, as well a point of contact for Peace & Safety (Gina R.), a point of contact for Information (Arahia) , two PR reps (John & Paul) and Tad from Engineering. Teresa from PR was invited as well, but due to the short notice of the meeting, was unable to arrive in time, and arrived after the meeting started and was not able to attend. The meeting was intended to be in open forum, but it was stated by officer Robert King that the Police Chief would only meet with 5-6 people in their office at the Justice Center. Both video and audio recordings were allowed and were recorded by John & Paul. Arahia took written notes.
Content: The meeting was summoned as a means for Peace & Safety to directly respond to the concerns and emerging questions which arose due to a very emotionally charged press release and internal memo made on behalf of the Portland Police Department regarding the recent Occupy endorsed solidarity with Oakland march regarding police brutality.
There were four main agenda items that the occupy supporters brought forth to the Portland Police:
- Issue with cultural misunderstandings
- Incident regarding alleged citizen pushing an officer in to a moving bus
- A needed clarification on Class ‘C’ uniforms
- Specific concerns regarding action logistics
The first question presented to the police chief was a concern over the difference between the PPB hierarchy structure compared to that of the horizontal collective processes and structure of the Portland Occupy Movement. It was asked if the PPB currently interprets our processes as inherently threatening. Chief Reese then asked who the leaders of the movement were and or if we were leaders. It was then expressed by us, that in order to have productive conversations between police and Occupy Portland that the police would have to have a better understanding of the processes we utilize and our form of collective leadership. It was acknowledged that it may be difficult for officers coming from a hierarchical structure to operate comfortably within a different process, but it was assured that it could be done, providing that they understand that there is not a single go to person, or a single group. It was explained that if they wish to have better communication with the movement they would have to express their specific concerns with the GA, related individual sub working groups, as well as our PR team and our newly emerging liaison team. This was acknowledged and we were thanked for explaining this better.
Our other discussion was in relation to the alleged incident involving a participant in the Wednesday march who supposedly pushed an officer in to a moving bus. This issue is obviously of great concern, so in a matter of clarification, it was asked if the Portland Police would release the video to the public regarding the alleged incident. Gina R. expressed that she attended the March as a peace and safety member and based on her observation did not witness at any time, anyone pushing an officer in to a moving bus. Police Chief Reese responded by saying that they are unaware of the existence of a video and that any such evidence would be presented during the case trial. If members of Occupy are interested in knowing more about this case we should follow or attend the trial.
The next question was in regards to clarifying what a Class ‘C’ uniform looks like in comparison to what we at the occupation and the public have been currently seeing. Officer Day was apparently wearing this exact uniform (without the extra tactical gear). It looks like a standard navy blue police uniform with a heavier tactical belt. He modeled it for us and explained that it was the equivalent to ‘blue pajamas.’ In the internal memo sent by Chief Reese to officers, it states that “All sworn members will have their gas mask, baton, and helmet immediately available.” It is unclear based on the response given in the meeting whether or not the term “immediately available” refers to them wearing the extra tactical gear.
The main conversation revolved around issues pertaining to political action logistics. Chief Reese was asked to clarify what the department meant by his statement, “The tone of this march seemed to change from previous events, and many in the crowd seemed confrontational.” Chief Reese then explained that protestors in this march were more verbally aggressive, some waving sticks as well as their accusation of having an officer being pushed in to a moving bus. It was clear by this conversation that fear and uncertainty surrounding the nature of organic events is interpreted by the police as an aggressive approach. The Chief was then asked if there were any specific concerns he would like to clarify, taking in to consideration the movement’s desire for free and organic actions. He said yes and provided a list of statements and requests:
- They would like Occupy Portland to know that they do not wish to be adversarial, and that their duty is to ensure the public safety of all. They say they have to balance freedom of speech with the concerns, safety and freedoms of others, which is no easy task.
- Although they appreciate the desire and need for organic action, they request in the future that marches, especially of a large nature, at the very least have a desired destination and or purpose, and that this destination and or purpose be communicated with the PPB, even if it is only 10minutes beforehand. This is so they can help mitigate traffic and prevent unaware citizens from being accidentally injured, as well as them.
- Chief Reese was asked specifically what number of participants is required to take the streets freely, and he said that his personal opinion was that there would have to be well over 200 however the exact number will be decide by the individual incident commander on duty at the time of the action.
- It is requested that all non-permitted events with 200 or less keep to the sidewalks
- If the movement wishes to keep the events nonviolent it was expressed that there is a ‘shared accountability’ in ensuring that this happens. The best way for the movement to do this according to Reese is to have the community of Occupy Portland hold each other to the values of nonviolent peaceful protest.
NOTE: It is unclear at this time despite further conversation on this subject, if the police will continue to interpret all nonviolent actions outside the reaches of permits and permission as aggressive or threatening. The current memo and press release indicates that they will.
It was then expressed by us that due to the organic nature of many of these events it will not always be logistically possible or desirable to provide all of the information they are requesting at the moments they are requesting. This was acknowledged and Chief Reese responded by re-stating their desire for more communication on the ground, even if all the details are unknown.
We also addressed our concern for the PPB escalated aggression citing their verbal announcement at the Wednesday march that they would employ chemical weapons or impact weapons upon those not staying on the sidewalks. It was expressed that this use of language generates great fear and can in actuality create a scenario of violence rather than de-escalation. Gina R. responded specifically stating that the statement and desire to “protect people” made on behalf of the Portland police sounds ridiculous when paired with the statement of the use of force. Chief Reese asked if we had a better idea on how to handle the situation when people are not peacefully responding to the request of moving on the sidewalks. Out of what appeared to be clear frustration over a lack of other options it sounded as though police may be willing to employ an alternative tactic if a better idea is presented. The subject then changed and a direct response to this question was not able to be made.
Final Closing Remarks:
The Police Chief asked if we had any final statements. We said we had covered everything we wanted to cover, and he then asked if he could address some of the PPB concerns regarding the in camp environment. We said yes, and Chief Reese provided the following concerns:
-Health & Sanitation (Public Health, Disease, Hygiene)
-Minors & Street Youth (Runaways, Schools & Resources)
-A need for low impact camping
-Fear of increased occupation in small space
Additionally they wanted to give some feedback regarding the overall perception of the movement. They feel that we are losing our political message by being bogged down by internal camp issues, and that we are losing ‘public’ support. Commander Day spoke to this issue specifically, and voiced a concern that it may be to the benefit of the movement to create some sort of distinction between internal camp issues and the overall political issues. It was unclear as to what the term “distinction” meant explicitly. However, it was suggested that those who suffer the most from poverty and disenfranchisement be connected to the resources available and that Occupy should make a more concentrated effort in making this happen. To do this he suggested creating a stronger collaboration between transitions Projects, Join, and Janus Youth Programs as well as the recently opened winter shelter. In response to these comments it was then expressed by us, a concern over the lack of resources and capacity that these organizations have and that they are most likely unable to assist many in the encampment. No real response was made regarding this issue on behalf of the PPB. It was simply reiterated that these services and programs are good programs.
In response to the overall concerns of the encampment we responded by explaining that the transitions and sustainability working group is in the current process of developing an Occupation wide survey to gain community feedback regarding issues surrounding the Portland Occupy Movement for the purpose of developing an immediate and comprehensive sustainable transitions proposal. It was also stated that many in the movement are aware and concerned about the very same issues and we are in the processes of a large collaborative effort seeking to address these issues as a community.
Further details of this meeting can be found via video or audio recording which will be posted by John and or Paul from the PR team sometime soon. Those with questions, concerns and or comments may contact any of us via e-mail, and or in person at the camp. This meeting and its notes will be presented at tonight’s GA, and posted online under the Social Media and Peace & Safety Forum.