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If Donald Trump were mayor of Portland instead of Ted Wheeler, would we notice?

Ted Wheeler has been secretly working with Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice to dismantle Portland’s police accountability process.

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Photo via Oregon Live

When Ted Wheeler does something you should ask yourself what your response would be if Donald Trump did the same thing.

I must preface this piece by noting that I do not think we would be better off with Donald Trump as mayor of Portland. Nor do I believe that the two men are equal. Donald Trump is in a class of his own in terms of bigotry and a level of nastiness that he has brought to mainstream politics. Furthermore, Ted Wheeler has some major accomplishments that we should applaud him for. These include passing relocation assistance, banning fossil fuel infrastructure and revamping a form of voter owned elections. However, my argument is that there are many examples of moves that we on the left chastise Donald Trump for making but then ignore our own politicians when they commit similar actions. Truth be told, the mayor impacts the day-to-day lives of Portlanders more than the President. We should start paying attention to what the mayor is doing and begin resisting his actions just as we resist the president’s when they are nearly identical.

Unfortunately, our new mayor has been a severe disappointment. Yet he is allowed to continue his problematic tendencies as the city continues to focus on the nation’s leader. I argue that we can do both. The two are similar on many fronts. Trust me, I am not simply talking about the fact that both are from very rich families, enjoy inherited money and transition from Democrat or Republican depending on who they need to vote for them. There is much more. From Trump recently encouraging police violence to Ted Wheeler allowing and excusing police violence, their respect and tolerance of abuse, their response and attitudes toward protesters, governing style and many other policies; the two have many similarities. However, it was the recent revelation that Ted Wheeler has been working with Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department and our increasingly powerful police force to strip away our only mechanism to hold our police department accountable that should have people asking, “Who the hell did we just elect?”

Before we get to this latest bombshell let’s talk about some other similarities in terms of the police. Remember a few days ago when Donald Trump went to speak with a police department and encouraged police brutality? If you haven’t seen this, you need to watch it now. The entire crowd, or as conservatives say, “a few bad apples”, laughed and cheered as the commander and chief told them to physically hurt the people they arrest. This was incredibly disturbing. Many people on the left, including Portlanders were outraged and quick to call out the President for this deplorable rhetoric. It even prompted our own police department to condemn the comments. However, I personally have a hard time believing that in a similar environment, our police officers would not react the exact same way. Why wouldn’t they? They routinely hurt houseless individuals, people of color and protesters. They have even killed two people of color this year (one of which apparently died because an officer tripped and fell) while Jeremy Christian got to drink a beer before police apprehended him. Anyone who works with houseless individuals, people of color or any other marginalized community will tell you that our police department is full of violent thugs.

While both Donald Trump and Ted Wheeler seem to be fine with and even encourage police violence, they also seem to have a similar attitude towards protestors. Many of you might remember this image in which my partner and fellow activist Kat Stevens was roughed up by Portland Police officers for protesting.

In the police report for this incident the officer said he ordered her not to look at him and she refused so he decided to use a pressure point to put her in pain. Sounds like the kind of thing Donald Trump would applaud, right? However, when it happened we heard nothing from Ted Wheeler, the police department or anyone in city government aside from Chloe Eudaly. It isn’t just Kat though. Anyone who goes to a protest knows that police use violence against peaceful protesters. During the campaign Donald Trump encouraged people to rough up protestors, while under Ted Wheeler protesters are literally beaten and subjected to a plethora of weapons.

Why are we so willing to get angry when Donald Trump encourages something but are silent when Ted Wheeler actually does it? Furthermore, Portland Police show up to protests in warrior costumes ready for war, they use weapons at a rate that no other police department in the country does and don’t give a damn about your first amendment rights. This is all while arresting, targeting and intimidating those who dare to stand up against this brutality. Ted Wheeler recently directed the DA “to pursue harsher charges and penalties for repeat offenders arrested at protest”. Donald Trump should take notes. This means that the mayor, who is also the police commissioner, now also wants to order around the DA. Checks and balances anyone? If Donald Trump were mayor, the city’s response to protests would be exactly the same. As would the cities lack of response to fascist events. Remember when Ted Wheeler let white supremacists ride a bus for free at the end of their march because they didn’t want to walk back? Or maybe you remember on June 4th when Ted Wheeler sent officers to beat up the people of Portland side by side with fascists.

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Now all of that is obviously terrible but Ted Wheeler isn’t entirely to blame. Let’s recognize that this rise in police violence and violent suppression of first amendment rights has all occurred under Mike Marshman AKA an admitted domestic abuser AKA the guy who was recently placed on leave for skipping a meeting and lying about it AKA one of the final four candidates for police chief. That’s right, Ted Wheeler is considering telling the people of Portland that this violent white man who has done a terrible job as police chief, is the best person for the job after a national search. And he expects you to either be too stupid to know that this national search was a sham in order to give Mike Marshman this job or that you are too misinformed to even know what is going on. Know of any other political figure who respects abusers and violent police? I’ll give you a hint, his name rhymes with dump.

So, let’s leave aside police issues for a while, they have other similarities as well. Their governing styles are quite comparable. From a complete lack of transparency, empty rhetoric, broken campaign promises and a complete lack of respect for communities of color, the two are very similar. Ted Wheeler’s search for a new police chief has been shrouded in secrecy. He promised a public process but has kept every step of it secret until Portland’s Resistance obtained details via a public records request.

Portlanders pretend to be upset about the ramping up of deportations in America but fail to ask how many Portlanders have been deported! And why are they getting deported? Because Portland’s racist police department continues to disproportionately lock up minorities and charge them for minor crimes which throws them into the hands of ICE. What kind of sanctuary city is this? The two men are also marked by empty rhetoric and broken promises. Both have made a political career out of saying what they think their voters want to hear, not actually doing the things they said they would do and then relying on those same voters being too uninformed to call them on it. Well here’s the deal, it’s time for Portland to wake up.

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Photo via Doug Brown

Remember when Ted Wheeler promised to “Actively demilitarize the police force”. Well newsflash, he didn’t. He never intended to. Just like when Donald Trump said he would be great for the LGBTQ community and then banned Trans people from the military. Remember when Donald Trump spoke to black leaders at the onset of his reign and then didn’t do anything for them and refused to even speak at the NAACP convention? Well many of you don’t know this, but after the election Ted Wheeler invited community leaders to the table to talk about improving racial issues in our community. I was one of the people invited. However, at this meeting it became clear that he had miscalculated and was not interested in any change. This meeting occurred at Wieden Kennedy and the mayor elect took a verbal beating from almost all in attendance. He promised follow up meetings and further dialogue. However, most of the people in the room never heard from him once in office. He gave up on us. He gave up on the black community and instead has coddled the Portland business alliance and the police union. If Donald Trump does something worth resisting and Ted Wheeler does the exact same thing, we need to resist him too. We have an opportunity in Portland to be a beacon of light for the rest of the nation in these dark orange times. We have the chance to show the country what a progressive city can really do and insulate ourselves from the policies of Donald Trump; not with borders and walls but with policies of our own. Let’s seize that opportunity rather than continue to let a false progressive lead us. Right now we need bold visions for the future not business as usual or worse.

This leads me to my last and most important point. Ted Wheeler is working with our racist Attorney General Jeff Sessions and our police department to gut our only means of police accountability. This from a guy who promised to “strengthen the independent police review board by establishing the power to subpoena, take sworn testimony and recommend consequences in the event of police misconduct” but now he is working with the Trump administration to do the exact opposite. The NAACP of Portland writes that: “Portland City Council has scheduled a hearing on amendments to the Department of Justice Settlement Agreement for Thursday August 3, 3:10 (time certain). These amendments, which eliminate the role of community voice and oversight of the Portland Police, were developed in secret between the City, the Department of Justice, and the Portland Police Union.” They go on to write that these amendments:

  • Remove community oversight from the settlement agreement.
  • Remove the city council from the settlement agreement — leaving the mayor as the appointing body of the PCCEP and the only person receiving reports.
  • Do not include a proposal for a fairness hearing.
  • Imply community advocates were involved in criminal behavior.
  • Eliminate all outside review of improvements, and instead puts the PCCEP in charge of PR for the police department.

Furthermore, “The Department of Justice under Jeff Sessions opposes police reform agreements. But the real problem starts here in Portland, where the City and Portland Police Bureau have been fighting Judge Simons’ oversight of the settlement agreement since 2014, and they are now using the new DOJ position as a license to modify the agreement into meaninglessness. At the same time, the City now claims they are out of compliance if they don’t make these amendments immediately, with zero public input.

Among the many problems, the amendments would replace the Community Oversight Advisory Board (COAB) with the Portland Commission on Community-Engaged Policing (PCCEP), a pretend oversight body which claims its guiding principles to be, “To work with local government and Portland’s diverse constituencies to solicit and disseminate information between the community and Portland Police Bureau (PPB) to achieve the desired outcomes of meaningful community engagement with and trust in the PPB and policing which exceeds constitutional requirements.”

Also, “The writing of these amendments happened completely behind closed doors, without community input. The lack of transparency or community involvement from the City, DOJ and Police Union is absolutely revolting and must be resisted through testimony this Thursday. It is critical that we continue taking steps forward to improve the community’s role in policing for more just system.”

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Photo via The Register-Guard

In short, Ted Wheeler is not a good mayor. On many issues, we couldn’t tell the difference if it was instead, Donald Trump in Portland City hall. If he hires Mike Marshman we need to start organizing for a recall. If he guts our only form of police accountability we need to do the same. Lives are at stake. Under Donald Trump we need a mayor who will protect us, not act like our shameful president.

In the meantime what can we do? I have three solutions:

1. Be consistent! When Donald Trump encourages police violence and you get upset about it, be equally upset when our mayor does the same thing. When Donald Trump lies to us and you point it out, do the same when Ted Wheeler lies. When Donald Trump protects racists, and encourages violence towards leftists causing you to scream, scream even louder when your mayor does the same. And most importantly when your President is dishonest, incapable and un-American and it causes you to promote impeachment, sign the recall for Ted Wheeler when he governs the same way.

2. Pay attention to local politics. This police chief hire has seen almost no news in our local media, yet this person will probably be around far longer than Ted Wheeler. This is arguably the most important hire our city will make for years to come. In the words of Joe Biden, “This is a big fucking deal” Please, if you don’t like to see riot cops beating up peaceful protesters, if you don’t want another black kid killed by our police department, if you don’t want houseless people harassed on our streets; don’t let Ted Wheeler hire Mike Marshman.

3. Do what the NAACP is asking us all to do to stop this collusion between our mayor and Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions. This means emailing and calling city council to find out where they stand and register your objections to the amendments (copy the City Clerk on your emails).

Mayor Ted Wheeler 503–823–4120

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly 503–823–4682

City Council Member Nick Fish 503–823–3589

Commissioner Amanda Fritz 503–823–3008

Commissioner Dan Saltzman 503–823–4151

Council Clerk Karla Moore-Love 503–823–4086

And come to the City Council meeting on 8/3 and sign up to speak. Remarks are limited to 3 minutes per speaker. It is a good idea to plan your remarks ahead of time to ensure you convey your key message in the time allowed.

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