Hardesty questions council’s commitment to racial justice after police budget cut plan falls 3-2

Hardesty questions council’s commitment to racial justice after police budget cut plan falls 3-2

Police ready to escort a bike ride in August 2006.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

In a not too surprising move, Portland City Council just voted 3-2 against a police budget cut proposal championed by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty.

“We are hearing a consistent message: Police do not make us safe. What makes us safe is investing in community… When Chief Lovell called these potential cuts to the bureau devastating. I want to be clear, police violence is also devastating.”
— Jo Ann Hardesty, Portland city commissioner

Hardesty went in with one guaranteed vote from Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. They needed one more vote. And they didn’t get it. Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Dan Ryan each made long speeches about how much they care about racial equity and police reform; but in the end they just couldn’t support Hardesty’s way of going about it. Ryan managed to vote “no” after saying he feels Portland Police Bureau Chief Chuck Lovell should be given more time for reforms passed in June to take hold. Ryan also said he agreed that, “The time for police reform is now” but Hardesty’s particular reforms would be a, “threat to public safety”.

As I shared earlier today, Hardesty’s proposal looked to reduce PPB funding by $18 million and invest the money into a variety of community initiatives, public health programs, and alternative policing methods.

Hardesty was understandably disappointed that council didn’t seize this opportunity. I thought her speech was worth sharing. Check it out below (edited for clarity and brevity):

“On May 28th people took to the streets in droves. And they took to the street because once again a Black man was killed at the hands of a police officer. Anyone who thinks that it was about Mr Floyd’s death, is living in a bubble. It was a cumulative impact of racial bias and policing identified by the City Auditor over and over and over again. Identified by other outside evaluations over and over and over again.

Hardesty at a rally in July 2020.

Something amazing happened in June. This city council listened to the people and collectively got behind a set of cuts to programs that we all can agree had racially-biased outcomes from the very beginning. Since that time, Portland Police has elected to not solve crimes. They’ve elected to tell community members that because their budget was cut by $15 million, they can’t respond. They can’t respond to domestic violence calls; they can’t respond to windows being broken up; they can’t respond to robberies. Their budget is over $200 million, yet because of a $15 million cut, they found themselves unable to solve crimes. Portland Police has one basic job, and that is to solve crime. And they’re not that good at it. Since the DOJ [Department of Justice] came to town in 2012, we have spent over $30 million additional dollars retraining Portland Police officers, having community listening sessions, sitting around tables and talking about what reform could look like. And here we are, $30-plus million dollars later — and guess what? We still have a police force that believes that it is not answerable to elected officials. It believes that they get to decide what resources they have, and they get to pick and choose where they use their resources.

It will never be a good use of public resources having 30 Portland Police officers protecting the Portland Police Association building…

What we’ve heard clearly from the tens of thousands of people that have taken to the street, from the 700 people who testified in June, the over 200 people who testified just last week — we are hearing a consistent message: police do not make us safe. What makes us safe is investing in community. To say that Portland Street Response will never replace police is someone who just doesn’t know what they’re talking about. There’s never been an intent for Portland Street response to replace police. The vision has always been that we could have a more compassionate empathetic community response to people who are houseless, rather than spending our resources arresting more than 50% of people who are houseless, as Portland Police has done over the last two years.

… I am disappointed that my colleagues cannot envision a life where police only solve crimes and don’t spend the bulk of their time harassing people who are houseless, or mentally ill, or without other resources. We had an opportunity to really invest in keeping people in their homes, keeping them fed. And while we know nobody actually wants to be a Portland Police Officer nowadays, to reimagine what we as a community want policing to look like.

… Anybody that thinks that my focus is only on the police, you really have not been paying attention. Our whole criminal justice system is dysfunctional, racially unjust, and provides consistently racially disparate outcomes. Over and over again since May we heard this community voice. They gave us a clear mandate that we rethink what community safety looks like. What does it look like when you’re poor? What does it look like when you’re not white? What does it look like when you have no or limited resources? That’s what you’ve been asked to to. But instead, we want to use the traditional governmental approach — let’s have more studies, let’s bring more people to the table, let’s not do something radically different, let’s not think differently until we have other things in place…

I did not come here to play polite. I did not come here to sing Kumbaya. I came here to make a difference in people’s lives, every single day. And when the community demands it, I stretch myself more. I don’t tell them, ‘This is not the time for that conversation. This is not the day for us to discuss this.’ I knew when we were passing resolutions that Black Lives wouldn’t matter long…

On election night Portlanders overwhelmingly voted for a new police accountability system. Over 80% of Portlanders continued to speak loud and clearly that policing the way we’re doing it does not work. And yes, the mayor was re-elected — barely. And yes, we have a new colleague coming in. And yes I’m thrilled that Commissioner-elect Rubio will be joining us in January. But it is disingenuous to say we should wait until they show up. Each of us was elected to lead in this moment, not next year, not next week, but in this moment.

I’ve heard some things today that truly disappointed me. But I want to be really clear: I have spent my time since May having those community conversations. I’ve had the privilege of working with [advertising agency] Wyden + Kennedy to develop a communication campaign around ReThink Portland. I have talked to hundreds of Portlanders, new organizers, and elders. People have been working on this stuff for 30-plus years, and the community is ready. Unfortunately, our leadership isn’t.

I wish I could say that I am surprised by the outcome of this amendment today, but I’m not.

Portland Police is already $4 million over their budget. I have no desire, and won’t ever vote, to give them another penny in this year’s budget. Because nothing that’s on the table today will make them live within their means.

It is disappointing that the status quo will reassert itself in this process. So we’ll continue to talk about Black lives but we won’t actually do anything to make Black lives better. We’ll keep talking about transformation, but let’s talk about it first and talk about who didn’t come to the table. These tables have been open and expansive, and all of you have been invited. And you’ve chosen not to come. Our role as elected leaders, is not to pretend that if we’re not singing Kumbaya, then somehow we’re spreading fear. I’m spreading a vision of what’s possible. I’m spreading a vision that our community has clearly told us, is what they want…

When Chief Lovell called these potential cuts to the bureau devastating. I want to be clear, police violence is also devastating. What I’ve seen over the last 160-plus days has been terrifying, something I never thought I would see in Portland. I want you to know that your vote against this amendment means that the status quo continues and Black people will continue to be over-policed, houseless people will continue to be over 50% of the arrests that Portland Police Bureau make, and Portlanders will continue to deal with the lasting devastation of an overly-aggressive police force who believes that they don’t have a boss.

BIPOC communities have been at the forefront of these demands for reinvestment, and we can keep talking about how we as a city are committed to centering BIPOC voices; but not actually do it when it counts.

We stepped up for our community. I look forward to continuing what we started in June. The people have spoken. They’re watching. And I’m pretty sure that they’re just as disappointed as I am with the lack of courage in this historic moment — where just for a second, Black lives mattered in Portland.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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