As some parents, teens and an organizer continued to criticize the arrests of two 17-year-old boys at last week’s student climate protest, Portland’s police chief on Tuesday promised a review while reminding youths “to be aware the law applies to everyone.”
Officers yanked the boys from a crowd and pinned them to the pavement in front of scores of teenage lookers Friday. The scene was caught on video viewed by more than 1 million people, and drew condemnation that the arrests undermined trust in police among youths and minority communities.
The boys are students and athletes at Cleveland High School, friends of the family said. They didn’t respond to interview requests that The Oregonian/OregonLive asked friends to relay. One boy was African American and the other was white.
No court dates have been set in the case, and juvenile authorities have yet to make a decision about whether to prosecute the teens on allegations of disorderly conduct and interfering with police. Prosecutors could decide to pursue charges in juvenile court or could informally handle the cases by connecting the teens to resources and support.
350PDX, the environmental climate group that helped organize Friday’s Climate Strike Rally, said it recognized that the viral Twitter video of police moving in on the African American youth could traumatize the African American community. The group denounced what it described as “police brutality and white supremacy in all its forms.”
The demonstration drew thousands to its permitted rally in downtown Portland and march across the Hawthorne Bridge.
“We sincerely apologize to our black and brown community members who were unsafe or felt unsafe at the Climate Strike Rally,” 350PDX wrote on its website. The group said it’s working to support the two students by providing legal and financial support to them.
The group pledged a list of responses at future demonstrations, including training its volunteers in how to better intervene to “interrupt police violence with nonviolence” and to ensure “that white folks are at the front of any action in which police are present, keeping those folks of color protected within the crowd.”
Mayor Ted Wheeler declined to speak to The Oregonian/OregonLive. His staff said his schedule was booked weeks in advance.
“We are aware of the incident and have been in touch with the Police Bureau regarding it,” said spokeswoman Eileen Park. “We are waiting to learn the results of their thorough review.”
Police Chief Danielle Outlaw didn’t address concerns of racism in a statement released by the Police Bureau. But she did say that “a few individuals” acted in ways that “warranted law enforcement action.”
“It is important for youth to be aware the law applies to everyone, which is why we communicated with event organizers prior to and during the event with our liaisons and with public messaging,” her statement said.
Outlaw said the Police Bureau, like with any event, will review what happened to determine “what went well and what can be improved upon for future events.”
She said the bureau values “our relationships with young people and I am very proud and thankful to the thousands of youth who participated in the event on Friday in a peaceful and safe manner.”
Climate protest participants, including those from Cleveland, told The Oregonian/OregonLive that the crowd was peaceful and police acted too aggressively. The 27-second video showed several officers quickly working their way past mostly white teenagers and toward two African American teens – including the one who was arrested.
Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said the officers “unnecessarily escalated a situation by pushing through a crowd of youth to single out two youth of color.”
Police dragged one of them away and arrested him on allegations that he had previously defied orders to stop leaning into traffic and endangering himself and drivers. In an interaction also caught on video, he and officers tussled earlier while he stood on a metal divider in the middle of the Hawthorne Bridge. Police said they waited until the teen was in a safer location, on the bridge’s east side, to arrest him.
A moment later, police also arrested the white teen, who they say interfered as they tried to take the black teen into custody. Video taken by The Oregonian/OregonLive shows police knocking the second teen to the pavement of a traffic lane and one of his shoes falling off.
Social media over the weekend exploded with angry comments directed at police.
“Every encounter with the public is an opportunity to build community trust, yet this is how these officers chose to interact with children peacefully engaging in direct action,” Hardesty said on her Facebook and Twitter pages.
In a Tuesday news release, police addressed complaints made by some community members that officers on Aug. 17 escorted right-wing protesters across the Hawthorne Bridge, which was closed to traffic. Critics have asked why police didn’t do the same for the young climate protesters.
The bureau said on Aug. 17, officers anticipated a large crowd and the possibility of violence with members of opposing protest groups converging along the waterfront, so they worked with Multnomah County and others to close the bridge “for a number of public safety reasons.”
When a right-wing group asked to be escorted across the bridge to leave, an incident commander agreed in order “to de-escalate the situation” and to “decrease the opportunity for physical clashes,” police said in the news release.
The bureau didn’t plan ahead of time to close the bridge for the climate protest because estimates hadn’t anticipated such a large crowd, police said. An incident commander that day authorized a shut down of the outer eastbound lane of the bridge to accommodate the crowd, but there “were not enough resources to conduct a full bridge closure,” the news release said.
“Thousands of participants crossed safely without engaging in dangerous or criminal activity in the process,” the news release said. “A few individuals were engaged in dangerous activity and were given repeated orders to stop. All but one of these subjects complied.”
Police said in the news release that the public can send comments about police officers’ actions to the city’s Independent Police Review division by going to https://www.portlandoregon.gov/ipr/ or calling 503-823-0146.
— Aimee Green
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Published at Tue, 24 Sep 2019 20:19:00 +0000