350 March against Police Brutality in Portland

About 350 people of various ages, races, and economic backgrounds took to the streets of Portland, Oregon, on Saturday, October 24 in a march against police brutality. Organizers from community groups of varying political beliefs called the march "Communities United to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation" after the National Day of Action on October 22. The march took the spirited, chanting, singing protesters about four miles from Northeast Martin Luther King Jr Blvd to the Justice Center steps downtown.

The starting point was very close to the site where on August 17, the Portland Police used "non-lethal" shotguns to fire upon a group of non-violent African-American protesters in Northeast Portland. Along the route, the marchers paused by a statue of Martin Luther King Jr to sing "We Shall Overcome"; noted the area of police targeting of homeless and Latinos in Old Town; and chanted "Stop harassing our youth" as they passed Pioneer Courthouse Square, where homeless and street youth are frequently oppressed by the police and private security.

At the rally point, protesters lined the stairs, filled the sidewalk, and spilled into the streets at the Justice Center, which is home to the Portland Police Bureau and the Multnomah County Detention Center. Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch read aloud the five points of unity agreed upon by the October 24 Coalition who planned the event, and pointed out the irony of the quote etched into the edifice of the Justice Center. It reads, "'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere'--Martin Luther King."

Also speaking were Travis West, who called police brutality a "cancer" that is spreading from community to community in Portland. West was hit by a non-lethal "beanbag" shotgun during the August 17 protest. Two other people who were also present at that protest, including a woman whose baby was snatched from her by police, spoke out as well.

Hannah Westphal of Amnesty International Group 48 talked about the international human rights organization's new campaign against police brutality in the U.S. Anne Rose-Pierce of "...after seventeen years..." denounced proposed video visitations, which would limit families to seeing loved ones in prison by video phone.

A representative of CAUSA '98, an immigrant rights group, spoke of police and INS harassment in Portland and around the state. Jimmy Bacca, a homeless activist, tied the issues of his community to the current concerns about police brutality.

The highlight of the speaking, however, was from two families whose children died at the hands of the police. First was Paul Hart, the lawyer for the family of 37-year-old mentally challenged Richard "Dickie" Dow, who was killed earlier in the week when police who had beaten and pepper sprayed him laid him on his stomach and induced "positional asphyxia." Hart spoke passionately for the need for an independent investigation into Dow's death. Dow's mother, Barbara Vickers, was brought to tears as the crowd cheered wildly and chanted "Justice For Dickie Dow!" Next up was Joe Keller, whose son Deontae was killed in 1996 when police shot him in the back, then left him to bleed to death. Keller announced that his quest for justice is going national, and sought support for his $20.5 million lawsuit against the City of Portland. The crowd responded with a huge cheer and round of applause.

The coalition's current demands are:
1. Police brutality is not acceptable in any form.
2. Portland's Police Review Board needs more independent oversight powers.
3. The practice of creating mandatory minimum sentences for victimless
crimes and the locking up of young people has got to stop.
4. "Less-than-lethal" shotguns shall not be used for crowd control.
5. The City shall collect exhaustive research on pepper spray to determine whether it should continue to be used by law enforcement.