Measure 26-217 will help create real police oversight

Published in Street Roots, October 2020

Since Aaron Campbell’s death, at least 20 people with mental health or substance problems have been killed by Portland police. Say their names.

Members of the Mental Health Alliance will vote YES on Portland City Ballot Measure 26-217 to form a new and empowered police review board and bring accountability and credibility to the Portland Police Bureau.

But first — say their names.

Aaron Campbell, Black, died in 2010. Distraught over the death of his brother earlier that day, he was shot in the back by Portland police during a “welfare check” and denied medical treatment by police for over 10 minutes. Portland Police discipline: after a lengthy investigation and legal process, there was no discipline.

James Chasse Jr., white, died in 2006. He was first approached by police for looking “strange” near his home in the Pearl District. The police beat him to death and denied medical treatment to him by fabricating stories of fictitious drug use and convictions rather than disclosing their beating/Tasing to the medics. Portland police discipline: After an internal process of nearly four years, there was no discipline of the three officers.

For too long the only community oversight of Portland police has been one ineffective committee after another. Police continue to have all the power to police themselves. Meetings do not equate to real justice, oversight or safety.

In 2012 the city of Portland reached a behind-the-scenes settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, finding that the Portland police engage in an unconstitutional pattern of using excessive force on people with mental illness. Notably absent from this agreement was an independent, court-appointed monitor. Unlike most federal police interventions, this secretly obtained settlement allowed the Portland police to continue to control their own oversight. This was a significant missed opportunity for Portlanders, resulting in more meaningless community-attended “process” committees and little else.

We say their names.

Nicholas Davis

Chris Healy

Michael Johnson

Andre Gladen

Lane Martin

Koben Henriksen

We shall continue to say their names.

Since Aaron Campbell’s death, at least 20 more people with mental health or alcohol/drug problems have been killed by the Portland police. Sadly, studies have shown use of force against people with mental illness has actually gone up since the federal court settlement. We are not surprised. The single most important element that might have assured change in the Portland police — real independent oversight including civilian ability to remove officers — was not part of the agreement.

Saying that dozens of people have died because they were failed by “the mental health system” has become a tired pattern of shameless and cynical victim-blaming. Aaron Campbell and James Chasse did not die because they had a mental illness. They died because the Portland police killed them. As a very current and eye-opening comparison, in 2019, the Portland police killed five people — all in mental health crises. During that same period, the city of New York killed 10 people — even though it has 10 times Portland’s population.

We have given our police an enormous power to use deadly force against our citizens. It is not only our right but our duty as citizens to ensure that our police are ensuring the safety of all citizens.

We can no longer allow the Portland police to dictate to us what meaningless oversight they are willing to accept. This gets the equation backwards of who works for whom and is perhaps the main reason why people do not feel safe from their police. Ask yourself this: Why do those we allow to use deadly force against us to oversee themselves? Why do they continue to relentlessly maneuver for this? Why has this been allowed?

This measure can create a badly needed and meaningful permanent paradigm shift in police oversight for Portland’s citizens. Members of the new board will be community members, not police, and they will have real oversight power. This is truly an historic moment and opportunity for Portlanders to change what we expect of police oversight: we will no longer accept toothless committees imposed on us by the police.

Undoubtedly, opponents of this measure will continue to oppose efforts at real community oversight and police reform, even if 26-217 does pass. It will continue to be our civic duty to ensure there is real oversight of our police.

It is a tragic injustice when all it takes for the Portland police to get away with killing someone is if they look “strange” or they are going through a difficult time. This measure matters to all Portlanders. Literally, no one in Portland is truly safe from the police as long as the police control their own oversight. It is the duty of our city to have real oversight of our police.

Vote yes on Measure 26-217.

Learn more about the Mental Health Alliance at

Mental Health Alliance:
Amanda J Marshall, JD
Patrick Nolen
Meredith Mathis
Mark Schorr, LPC, CADC I
Jason Renaud
Rabbi Ariel Stone
Sandra Chisholm, MPA
Michael Hopcroft
Rochelle Silver, PhD
Mary-Margaret Wheeler-Weber
Maggie Powers
Mark Chasse, JD
Juan Chavez, JD
Franz Bruggemeier, JD
Organizational members of the Mental Health Alliance include the Oregon Justice Resource Center, the Mental Health Association of Portland and Portland Interfaith Clergy Resistance.