Open Letter to Kate Brown about the Continuing Police Violence in Portland

September 23, 2020

Governor Kate Brown
Office of the Governor
900 Court Street NE, Suite 254
Salem, OR 97301-4047

RE: Statement on “Unified Law Enforcement Plan” and Portland Protests

We, the undersigned, are writing to you with deep concern over your belated and vague response to Black Lives Matter protests in Portland over the past three months. The police reforms that have been passed by the state fall far short of protesters’ demands. Your “Unified Law Enforcement Plan” proposes sending more police into Portland, which is the opposite of those demands, and will only escalate the situation. After 100+ days of protests, you should be using your powers to negotiate a solution to materially, not rhetorically, address racial injustice and police brutality. The ballot measure on police oversight, if passed, will take months to implement and only deals with certain reforms and only in the Portland area instead of statewide. People throughout the state need to be protected from local and federal police violence. We need concrete actions toward substantive change NOW. Issues to be addressed include:

Police brutality: In your “Unified Law Enforcement Plan” there is not one word about the well-documented police brutality inflicted on the Black community of Portland for generations nor the excessive force used against activists, medics, journalists, passersby and neighborhood residents during protests against that brutality. Common police actions include: use of tear gas, pepper spray and other chemical weapons; use of so-called “less lethal” projectiles; beatings of arrestees and assaults on many, (including shoving to the ground, choking, punching, etc.); and destruction and theft of personal property. People of color have been arrested at a higher rate than white protesters. Individuals have reported uterine hemorrhaging and other menstrual irregularities from tear gas exposure.

State Troopers deputized as Federal law enforcement: Oregon State Police were deputized by the U.S. Marshals to act in support of Federal law enforcement. Currently, according to this article, 50 state troopers, part of the “Mobile Response Team”, are in Portland. They can now make arrests which would carry arbitrary federal charges from the Trump-appointed U.S. District Attorney. This undermines democratically-elected Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt’s decision to only prosecute demonstrators accused of deliberate property damage, theft or the use or threat of force against someone else. You must restore democratic control over prosecution decisions and work to rescind the federal deputization of Oregon State Police.

National implications: By allowing deputized State police to come into Portland to arrest protesters, you are complicit in the roll out of what is a repressive tool in Trump’s playbook. You are facilitating a “rehearsal” for the possibility that Trump might send state troopers into urban areas to repress protests of his plausible refusal to abide by the results of the November election.

Harm to the environment: Portland is famous for its trees and river. The immense amounts of tear gas used in downtown Portland have harmed trees in the area, and flowed from the sewer system into the Willamette River. As documented in this Oregon Public Broadcasting article, Congressman Blumenauer and State Representative Power have requested that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality investigate “impacts on human health, wildlife, aquatic life, and local air and water quality.” You must instruct the Oregon DEQ to immediately address these concerns, and report to the public on what the plans are to end these harmful practices. The federal government should be billed for the costs for environmental remediation and clean-up.
Community Forum: On September 16th, you announced that you convened the first meeting of your select Racial Justice Council including a list of its members and issues it will be working on. What is needed are serious negotiations that lead to an expedited plan to meet the demands of Black Lives Matter protesters, leading to a just resolution of conflict. Anything short of this is performative. That process should be designed, framed, and run by BIPOC folks who have led the protests.

We demand the following:

  1. Convene open meetings with BIPOC community members who have led the protests and others most harmed by police to negotiate changes towards material racial justice solutions and towards an Oregon free from institutional racism and police brutality. Work with District Attorneys state-wide to drop charges against Black Lives Matter demonstrators.
  2. Demilitarize our community through the following actions: No increased militarized presence in Portland including state troopers. Do all within your powers to not allow state police to be deputized as federal marshalls. Vocally protest any efforts by the feds to intervene in our jurisdiction or circumvent elected local or district officials. No use of tear gas or “less lethal” munitions and a moratorium on their purchase. No purchase of military grade weaponry or equipment for use against citizens.
  3. Begin a process to reduce the Oregon State Police budget by 50%. Redirect these funds immediately towards the needs of BIPOC communities, affordable housing for all (including those displaced by wildfire), and firefighting efforts.
  4. Invest in community care public safety systems to address issues of mental health, substance abuse, homelessness, domestic violence, minor traffic violations, or other areas where police are either not adequately trained or should not be the first responders.

It is your responsibility as the Governor to listen to the community, assist in establishing a road to restorative justice and not be sidetracked by the multiple crises. We know that the pandemic and wildfires are real and linked to the climate crisis, and it is frontline BIPOC communities who often bear the brunt of the impacts of climate chaos.

The crises of police brutality and lack of accountability must remain among your top priorities. It has gone on far too long.

We await your response.

Pacific NW Family Circle (families impacted by police violence)
Extinction Rebellion PDX (XRPDX)
Sunrise Movement, Beaverton Hub
Sunrise Movement, Portland Hub


Editor’s Preface to the Open Letter to Kate Brown

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