MHAP’s response to Portland’s settlement with the DOJ

READ – DOJ – City of Portland Settlement, to be voted on by Portland City Council 11/1/12, 2 PM
READ – Proposed city ordinance accepting settlement with DOJ

To Thomas Perez, U.S. Department of Justice:

The settlement offer distributed on October 27 may resolve differences between the city of Portland and the federal government, but from our point of view — that of persons with mental illness, those actually subject to the “pattern and practice” identified in your original report, those most likely to be harmed by police officers — there is little in the document which provides immediate reassurance.

Foremost, the city continues to employ officers who have mercilessly and thoughtlessly killed our friends without consequence. The settlement introduces no mechanism to separate those individuals from the police bureau, in order to prevent future threat to us or hold them duly accountable. No amount of policy, training, or wringing of hands can amend these crimes, and nothing has been done to protect us from the officers involved. Ignoring this situation evidences an unexplainable disregard for justice; as such, it undermines the entire agreement.

Second, as you noted in your findings, persons with acute mental illness, including psychosis, mania and even depression, often do not respond as expected to authoritative commands. Without worthwhile treatment resources, acute illness is a predictable, routinely experienced complication of many illnesses. For us, inability to respond to police immediately or typically can provoke an escalation in tactics that too often results in injury or death. While the settlement agreement does address treatment deficiencies, it is mainly responsive to the convenience of police, not the expressed needs of our community.

Third, just as persons with acute mental illness may be unable to respond to police commands, many of us have an equal inability to participate in normal political or bureaucratic processes. The settlement agreement introduces the Community Oversight Advisory Board, but its elaborate structure makes it wholly ill-considered if you want participation by persons at the center of the settlement. It is equivalent to giving a non-Braille text of Blackwell’s Dictionary of Law to a blind student: well-meaning, thoughtless, and cruel. You should have engaged capable persons with mental illness in your planning; they are plentiful.

In addition to the three points included in this email, the Mental Health Association of Portland supports the initial comments about the settlement made by Portland Copwatch.

We hope you will continue to investigate police brutality against persons with mental illness, because it does not just happen here, it is everywhere — and without real change, it will continue to deprive us of our lives, our rights, and our pursuit of happiness, unabated into the future.

Please note: Because our past communications with you have been ignored, we are sending copies of this email to members of the Portland City Council and to the media.