Be proud of Portland’s compassion, generosity

MY VIEW • Rose City shouldn’t base its decisions on Giuliani’s flawed actions
Published in the Portland Tribune, by Chani Geigle-Teller, September 22, 2010

Protecting civil and human rights is fundamentally important to Sisters Of The Road and other thoughtful, engaged Portland citizens.

The Tribune’s recent article about how our community shares its public spaces was full of misinformation, stereotypes, leading statements and fear-based reporting that harms our vibrant city (Would Rudy Giuliani put up with this?, Sept. 9). Creating made-up scapegoats for our economic troubles is an unhealthy Band-Aid to problems that are hurting communities, businesses and families nationwide.

Of course, it is a little uncomfortable to be asked for spare change when we are worried about house payments, our children’s oversized classrooms and job security. Most people understand that they are only one paycheck or medical bill away from being unable to take care of themselves and their families. Whether you are sleeping on the streets in downtown Portland or in a home in the suburbs, most of us are finding it a little harder to get a good night’s rest these days.

At Sisters, we know that as communities of people we have the capability to come together to create the kind of change that will ensure that all of our basic needs are met and we are safe and comfortable in neighborhoods across the country.

Some would have us believe that we are unsafe walking down the street, but how you perceive public safety will depend on where you stand in society. The Portland Police Bureau reports that crime in general continues to decrease. Laws that “clean up our streets” for “livability” purposes not only jeopardize our civil rights, but cost us bundles in taxpayer dollars. Every dollar we spend on jails and courts could be spent in our communities on homes, creating jobs, public transportation and schools.

Mayor Rudy Giuliani filled the jails with working-class people using classist, racist laws and created a city that boasts one of the largest concentrations of extreme wealth in the United States. People living in poverty in New York City were reported to have been picked up by city workers and dumped off in other locales, such as New Jersey.

Giuliani’s mayoral terms were known as periods of grave civil rights abuses and rampant police misconduct. Would Portland put up with Giuliani and the draconian grievances he bragged about?

We are sure that Portland would not.

Policing the crisis will not fix the fundamental problem. We are at a crossroads in many ways. We need real solutions, and they do exist. Economic human rights models that include a right to housing, education and treatment, a job with a living wage will prove much more effective in the long run. When pressed, people on all sides of this issue seem to agree on this point. Yet, advocates for “nuisance crime laws” keep crowding out other voices by saying that we need “action now!” They argue that one more law will give them the “tools” to make everything better.

Portland can be proud that we are known throughout the country for our compassionate citizens, engaged communities and strong, civic values.

Sisters Of The Road invites everyone who wants to understand these complex issues and learn some ways to turn this situation around to read the newly released Without Housing Report, produced by our partners at the Western Regional Advocacy Project.

Chani Geigle-Teller is community organizer for Sisters Of The Road Cafe in Old Town.