Having an Emergency? Don’t Call the Police

Editorial by Bernie Foster of The Skanner News, February 12, 2009

Bernie Foster, Publisher of The Skanner

Bernie Foster, Publisher of The Skanner

The recent sorry string of preventable incidents of police violence is pushing the local community into a state of fear and anger that will soon launch Portland into the national spotlight.

On Tuesday, Feb. 16, Jesse Jackson speaks at the Maranatha Church about the violent death of Aaron Campbell at the hands of a police marksman – and many of us are wondering why the police ever had to be on the scene of a grieving, depressed young man who subsequently died of a rifle shot to the back.

The fact is, we at The Skanner News simply have to warn our readers away from calling the police when they are in a crisis situation. We cannot have faith that innocents won’t get caught in the firing line when trigger-finger officers arrive in force. We need to start solving our own problems.

There is a sense in the community of desperation at this situation never seems to change because there are no consequences to the officers who do the shooting.

We should be more like our Asian brothers and sisters and solve our own problems. We as adults need to talk to these young men to de-escalate the situation ourselves. In fact, Campbell’s family was trying to do that very thing. His young cousin told The Skanner News they had talked him into putting the gun down and giving himself up to the police – sadly he was dead by the time they were able to pass through roadblocks to the scene. It’s a shame anyone called 911 at all.

As Rev. T. Allen Bethel and others spoke so forcefully about the case last week, we would like to add that our religious and community leaders could also, as part of the solution, start making it a point to teach young people how to solve problems and de-escalate potential violence. As long as we expect some force outside ourselves to fix our situation, we will always be disappointed in the result.

And this is a particularly bad case. Even the Multnomah County Grand Jury that exonerated Officer Ron Frashour earlier this month has taken the uncharacteristic step of writing an open letter of protest to District Attorney Mike Schrunk outlining multiple problems with the police action that resulted in Campbell’s death Jan. 28.

We commend Schrunk for releasing it to the public, Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman for already stepping up and outlining new measures to address a few of the community fears around police mistakes such as this, and Chief Rosie Sizer for making an effort at transparency regarding policies and procedures that led to the tragedy.

However none of that excuses the most shocking aspect in this case — the use of a police attack dog, which, the Grand Jury letter implies, may well have been set on Campbell just before he was fatally shot for alleged noncompliance. The Grand Jury letter indicates that no other officer except Frashour saw Campbell’s hands move toward the back waistband of his pants. It begs the question: Was Campbell running away from an attack dog loosed on him by an officer, only to be shot because he was running away?

Each and every city leader should be aware of the special brand of fear – and repulsion – inspired by the use of police dogs against unarmed African Americans in this country. The tools Bull Connor used to beat down Civil Rights marchers, the weapons used by enslavers against those who would have escaped from bondage, police dogs have no place on the scene of a “welfare check” on a suicidally-despondent Black man.

We are watching with interest how the tragic death of Aaron Campbell is soon to play out on the national stage. But in the meantime – if you are in crisis in Portland, think twice before you bring in law enforcement.

James Chasse, Kendra James, James Jahar Perez, Jose Santos Victor Mejia Poot, Damon Lowery, Duane Anthony Shaw, Byron Hammick, Deonte Keller. What do all these people have in common? All were killed at the hands of the police. Think twice.

What do you think?