On the morning of May 19th, I had the opportunity to go to the Portland Community Peace Collaborative (CPC) biweekly meeting. The CPC works to reduce violence and crime in Portland by developing strategies with a diverse group of individuals in the room. The folks who I saw in the room include many street level gang outreach team members, police officers, city officials, community leaders whose goals align with those of the CPC, and other citizens.
I went to this CPC meeting hoping to learn more about the historical context to and present state of policing in Portland. I also hoped to be able to make connections with folks in our community who are involved in the work of the Police Bureau. However, I didn’t know what to expect.
When I walked in, I was first struck by the energy in the room. Almost everyone was intently engaged in a discussion, and I saw people in business suits talking to people in uniform talking to people in plain, everyday clothes. That image seems to capture the goal of the CPC to me.
I was greeted by a woman with rainbow-colored hair. I don’t think she was an official greeter, she just immediately said hello, which occurred quite often as I moved by different folks when I was there. I asked if it was okay to sit anywhere; she said no. “Standing room only,” she replied abruptly. I must’ve looked rather shocked because she immediately started laughing and slapped me on the back. “Just messing with you,” she said kindly. She could clearly tell that I wasn’t used to just walking into a room, in a police precinct no less, and talking to strangers. I needed to be less wary of starting up a conversation.
There was one long table leading from the door to the presentation screen; the first oval of chairs were around this table. There was a second oval of chairs around those, and then a third on the perimeter of the room. I made my way tentatively over to the front of the room, and sat down in the second set of chairs. I picked up the stack of papers that was on my chair and began to read.
“Presenter: Roberta Phillip-Robbins, Chair for the Oregon Council on Civil Rights. Youth and Measure 11: Impacts of Mandatory Minimums...Presenter: Nicole Grant, Senior Policy Adviser, Mayor’s Office. Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing.”
The meeting started with a report on the past two weeks’ gang activity in Portland delivered by the head of the Portland Police Gang Enforcement Team. The rest of the meeting was devoted to the two speakers, both of which had a youth focus, which was particularly helpful with my project.
The first presentation was about the impact of the mandatory minimum sentencing procedures imposed by measure 11 on Oregon’s youth, following this recent report by the Oregon Council on Civil Rights. The presenter, Phillip-Robbins, spoke of the disproportionate impact that this policy has on youth in communities of color and low-income communities. In 2012, black youth were 26 times more likely to be indicted for a Measure 11 offense than their white counterparts (see the report for more details). Furthermore, Measure 11 allows Oregon youth to be convicted as adults, which means that they have to live as a convicted felon for the rest of their lives, if and when they are released.
This presentation was impactful to me because I consider myself to be a relatively socially and politically aware young person in Portland, and I had never heard of Measure 11 before this meeting. Furthermore, I thought I had learned enough to have a primitive understanding of injustice in our criminal justice system, but I haven’t even scratched the surface. I want to continue looking into the ways outdated policies victimize people in our city today because this presentation made it clear to me there are ways to prevent this kind of unnecessary harm to people’s lives. I also want to extend the scope of this investigation to the specific ways in which new information can lead to changes in or the replacement of such policies. For example, the way this report uses new research about the brain to recommend changes regarding Measure 11.
The second presentation was about the Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing (PCCEP), a citizen task force focused on making policy recommendations to the City and the Police Bureau that the mayor’s office is forming in the coming year. The presenter, Grant, explained that the City is seeking a way to get community input as they make changes to policing policy in our city. She made it clear that they want voices from all corners of Portland represented, including high school representatives.
It was this emphasis on the need for young people to be at the decision-making table that caught my attention. Often times, youth are included in such endeavors in order to tokenize the youth voice, but this request for young people who want to be engaged seemed genuine to me.
City officials are actively seeking high schoolers by promoting the PCCEP at schools, and they have set aside two seats on the committee for high schoolers only. This is something they didn’t do with any other group, and high schoolers have equal consideration for all of the other spots as well. Once seated, everyone on the committee has equal voice, which leads me to believe they genuinely want youth engaged in this new initiative.
However, I believe that having the opportunity to help shape policing policy in our city is valuable for anyone, young or old. If you are interested in getting involved, the application form is here.
Finally, one last note about the CPC itself. I truly wasn’t sure what to expect walking in. In fact, I was caught off guard by the diversity of the people in the room. I think I was expecting a lot of police officers and a more formal meeting. Instead, I witnessed a room full of folks from all walks of life in Portland getting together with open minds towards the kinds of work that could occur. I was also caught off guard by the range of topics covered. Starting from the gang activity report that had almost no emotion attached, and moving to the hopefulness attached to the presentations on Measure 11 and the PCCEP.
One thing is for sure: the CPC is a unique group of people in our city, and the people in the room have the collective resources to make meaningful change. Their celebration of all those whose first time it was to CPC meeting makes me hopeful that this is one way anyone in Portland could work to make a difference. I am surely going back.