Despite all the tensions between the police and so many citizens of Portland, The Portland Police Foundation decided it would be cool to host an invite-only, $1000 per head play date with whomever they deem desirable. It is impossible to comprehend how an organization that supports a police bureau and union that publicly wail about how badly we (the citizenry) misunderstand and misinterpret its motives could think this type of event is appropriate, or even useful.
Am I on board with PPB offering a look into their training and operations? Sure! It would be great for them to host regular tours and visits for people who want to understand how officers are trained, how policy is determined, what resources are available, and build relationships with the Bureau. It would provide more transparency, humanize both police officers and civilians, and maybe start to ease some of the tensions we’ve seen building over the last decade.
But an invite-only, $1000 per person ticket to exclusive police access?
The price alone is prohibitive for most people, and who knows how they’re going to select their “special” playdate invitees. Regardless, the event seems designed to give a select group of people privileged access, thereby removing even the facade of police neutrality in dealing with citizens. The fact that it’s hosted by the Foundation (and not the Bureau) is almost irrelevant, special access is special access. Wanting to re-open the community academy is an admirable goal, but they honestly couldn’t come up with a different fundraising idea?
In many organizations, the recent DOJ investigation (which found significant problems with a variety of bureau practices and policies) would have spurred initiatives designed to start rebuilding trust with the communities who have been most affected by police violence and brutality. Even when individual officers do good work, their efforts are undermined or overshadowed by a system of racist practices, excessive use of force, and seeming disregard for the welfare of black and brown communities.
An event that caters to the wealthy and offers privileged access not only deepens the divide and corrodes what little trust may remain, it feels like a giant “fuck you” to the rest of us. Oh, and before I forget, who’s paying for this exclusive fundraising romp through publicly-funded police time and equipment? Yes! Us – the taxpayers! I wonder how many other private foundations get the same benefit – a fully functioning public entity available for its personal fundraising use? That the Foundation would do something that seems so contrary to the best interests of PPB (and its public image) and the people who live in this city makes the dig even deeper.
This is a post for white people everywhere, myself included. Any time you find yourself uncomfortable or unhappy in a conversation about race, don’t say anything until you consider this : For hundreds of years, black people died or were tortured for saying anything beyond “yes” or “no” and possibly even for that.
There is no way to ever justify or right that wrong. None.
The legacy of those hundreds of years has brought us to the point that black people today not only need and want to discuss their thoughts and feelings about this terrifying past, they have the platforms to do so, in ways they never have before.
Because so many black and brown voices have been brutally punished or silenced, we are given a great honor when these same voices continue to speak, continue to demand justice. They give us the chance to be better than we are, to make the right choices, and be our best selves.
Given that history, when I consider that black and brown people call themselves my friend and are kind to me, it seems the least I can do is deal with a bit of discomfort. I may feel defensive or ashamed or guilty, but those feelings are normal, if unwanted. It is MY job to hold them, not my friends’ job to make me feel better.
I don’t like making shaming comparisons, but my feelings of discomfort and guilt are minor next to the massive system of racial oppression that has existed in the US for centuries. Those feelings are almost nothing compared to the pain, degradation, and deaths of millions of dark-skinned folk. Next time we’re feeling antsy, remember that black people have felt like this for hundreds of years, but have kept silent for fear of their lives.
How many times have my black and brown friends and fellow humans felt uncomfortable or afraid because of the color of their skin? How often have I? How many times have they wanted to speak about their discomfort but were afraid of significant retaliation? How often have I?
For most of us white folk, if we are being truly honest, the answers are rarely and even more rarely. Our skin color has given us the right to openly discuss our discomfort and not fear retaliation based on our race.
This message isnt directed at people who are passively enjoying their privilege as beneficiaries of a racist system. Those people don’t care and probably won’t feel uncomfortable anyway. But for those of us who are trying, part of our work is to find the courage to own our discomfort, and not look to our black and brown friends for comfort.
It really is the very least we can do.