F.I. Goldhaber

Protests, Politics, Possibilities

(Teressa Raiford, Sarah Iannarone, Ted Wheeler)

The political winds have shifted since Portland’s May 19th mayoral primary. Now, the top vote getter is the underdog, but the other name on the ballot could be a spoiler. F.I. Goldhaber examines the dynamics.

 

Two-thirds of Portland voters agree Edward Tevis Wheeler is bad for Portland. Businesses blame him for disruptions caused by ongoing protests piled on top of coronavirus closures. Protesters, criticizing him for refusing to control the cops who beat and gas them every night, call for his resignation. His mayoral campaign appears to be in shambles with his second campaign manager leaving, disclosure and financial rule violations, and a probably illegal $150,000 loan  to himself.

Many are convinced there is no way for him to get elected to a second term.

Unless the two remaining candidates split the vote.

Although Sarah Iannarone, the only other name appearing on the ballot, won almost three times as many votes as Teressa Raiford in the May primary—enough votes to prevent Wheeler who received one and half times their combined total from winning outright—the world has changed drastically and irrevocably since then.

Many activists and voters do not believe any white person is equipped to lead Portland under the current paradigm of police violently attacking protesters against police brutality, and targeting primarily BIPOC for arrest, while the mayor and city commissioners ignore activistsdemands (even though implementing them could have stopped the nightly demonstrations months ago).

Worse, Iannarone and Raiford could split opposition to Wheeler and give him four more years, which would be a complete and utter disaster for the city.

White people in Portland, including Iannarone, do not understand just how tenuous life in Portland is for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color and how much risk they continue to face as long as the police department is allowed to exist in its current form.

Iannarone loves to tell people she’s antifa and she regularly attends protests. But, she proves she does not understand how deadly life is for people with dark skin and/or who are neurodivergent, not gender conforming, mentally distressed, Queer in public, houseless, etc. by still calling for police reform, reform that:

 

  • has repeatedly been tried and failed
  • cannot work if the city continues to support the outrageous police budgets while cutting funds from every other department
  • allows violent, abusive cops to continue responding to protests (when cops and other racists don’t appear there’s no violence, no one gets hurt)
  • allows reinstatement of cops (if they’re removed at all) after they murder someone
  • still has the city shelling out millions of dollars in civil penalties and for the many lawsuits resulting from police rioting and abuse of citizens over more than four months, while nothing comes out of cops’ pockets
  • allows racist bullies who live elsewhere and have no connection to the community to remain on the force
  • means nothing when there’s always an “unless” that gives police an out for killing people.

 

Iannarone’s “Comprehensive Plan” for “Rethinking Public Safety” includes such tired tropes as:

 

  1. “Portland Police will be required to undergo more de-escalation, implicit bias, and equity training than combat training. … Chokeholds and shooting at moving cars should be immediately banned.”

De-escalation training has been proven not to work. It has been required for police departments across the country to absolutely no effect. The activist who trained San Jose police on diversity and de-escalation, for example, unsuccessfully tried to de-escalate a situation after watching the police shoot rubber bullets directly at the chest of a young girl and at an older woman in close range. They shot him in the testicles in retribution.

Chokeholds have been banned in New York City since 1993, but Eric Garner (among others) is still dead. Chicago banned chokeholds in 2012, but Mia Wright endured one on June 3rd. New York state lawmakers criminalized the use of chokeholds in June and days later another Black man was choked into unconsciousness.

Minneapolis police were banned from attending “killology” training, where they’re taught pseudoscience about killing people without negative psychological impact. But the police “union” keeps offering it.

 

  1. “Portland must cease employing the practices and tools designed for foreign warfare.”

Many of the tactics used by the Portland Police would be considered war crimes if they were used in a conflict against citizens of another country. I’m not sure why Iannarone believes that statement addresses outrageous police brutality.

 

  1. “When police rely on riot control agents, it can affect everyone in a crowd …”

A judge has issued a restraining order against Portland police use of tear gas. They still use it. The mayor ordered them to stop using one kind of tear gas (CS). Portland Police used other chemical agents and worked with federal, state, and county law enforcement so CS gas could be deployed during protests by those agencies.

 

  1. “Demilitarize the police by ending the bureau’s investment and proliferation of military-style weapons and tactics.”

Defunding police militarization is not enough. The problem is not the riot gear, the gas and pepper spray, or the “less-than-lethal” weapons as much as it is the people wearing/wielding them, people who beat protesters with billy clubs—a traditional weapon dating back to the Pinkerton Detectives hired to break up strikes by busting skulls—because they can and do get away with it. Portland Police vindictively drag people to jail in the middle of a pandemic, on charges the District Attorney has said he will not prosecute, just to punish protesters. Removing their riot gear, or taking away their weapons, would not change that.

A Twitter thread compiled by T. Greg Doucette, a conservative, criminal defense lawyer licensed in North Carolina and Texas, documents more than 950 events of police brutality in the United States over the past four-plus months. It started as a Top Ten list from the first 36 hours of protests after George Floyd’s death. But as police continued to brutally attack protesters against police violence, as people shared what they witnessed and video they recorded with Doucette, the list grew. (The numbers refer to events—he only assigns one number to multiple videos including updates from the same event, that have taken place only in the U.S. and only since May 27. And he doesn’t post nearly as many as he’s sent. A spreadsheet with all the data collected has more than 2,000 entries, as of this writing.)

The thread gives an extensive overview of the wanton, vicious, almost always unprovoked, violence perpetuated across the nation by so-called “officers of the law” on people exercising their First Amendment rights. It makes it clear that cops are bullies. That they enjoy hurting people. That they have absolutely no regard for the law, for their “training,” or for orders given them by the elected officials, to whom they supposedly report, and the judiciary.

The thread regularly features Portland Police:

 

  • attacking peaceful protesters
  • shooting at people with military-grade weapons, aiming for their heads to cause life-threatening injuries
  • targeting journalists and legal observers despite court orders against doing so
  • harassing, gassing, and shooting at people in their own homes and neighborhoods or people who just happen to be driving/walking/biking in the vicinity of a protest.

 

You cannot train people like this out of behavior that includes routinely getting away with murdering BIPOC and people suffering from mental illness. You can’t reform organizations (including police “unions”) that condone this behavior and fight any attempts at reform.

Portland is at a crossroads and only an experienced and dedicated BIPOC leader can see the city to the other side.

Black activists do not need or want someone with a white savior complex. They have produced detailed plans to defund the Portland Police Bureau and create actual public safety programs that address long-term, neglected BIPOC needs.

Raiford, who began challenging Wheeler during his first year in office, has actively worked against police brutality and overreach for more than a decade. As a fourth-generation Black Portlander, she is only too familiar with police abuse and has fought for police accountability for much of her life. She founded Don’t Shoot PDX, a non-profit which researched the threats that riot control agents pose to health and the environment and filed the class-action lawsuit which resulted in the court ordering police not to use tear gas. Don’t Shoot PDX, whose website was selected for inclusion in the Library of Congress collection of materials related to anti-racism work in the U.S., also addresses housing issues, provides mutual aid, and implements art, education, and civic participation to create social change, and more.

But back in May, before Floyd’s murder triggered nightly protests throughout the city of Portland, Raiford finished third in a field of 19 candidates. And now, she is so busy doing the work on the streets that should be a mayor’s job, she spends no time stumping. The write-in campaign is managed by her staff who speak and advocate for her. The activists who risk injury, arrest, and death from Portland Police, Multnomah County Sheriff Deputies, Oregon State Police, and agents of various federal agencies every night support her, especially those who are BIPOC, abolitionists, and/or anti-capitalists. Iannarone is a white liberal. Like Raiford, the activists are radicals and unlikely to respond to polls, especially ones conducted by Wheeler’s owners supporters, the Portland Business Alliance who hired Amy Rathfelder, his former campaign manager, as Government Affairs Director and consistently endorses him.

Iannarone’s refusal to set her own ego aside and transfer her support to Raiford’s candidacy by encouraging voters to write-in Teressa Raiford for mayor, could tip the balance away from removal of a corrupt administration more concerned with property than people. Instead of electing someone with the courage to eliminate the police and re-allocate those funds into social services, by continuing her campaign Iannarone provides Wheeler his one opportunity to stay in office.

If Wheeler is re-elected, or even if by some miracle Iannarone beats him, Portland will be destroyed. Between killer cops; the Proud Boys macing the streets, shooting paintballs, pointing  loaded pistols at BIPOC, and firing pistols out of vehicles; boogaloo boys determined to start a race war; and other white supremacists itching for an excuse to murder people of color; (and let’s not forget a global pandemic and massive wildfires caused by climate change that came very close to the city and made it impossible to breathe for a week) Portland will be ripped apart and destroyed. The casualty rate will be horrific.

But if Iannarone helps elect Raiford, she will be seen as a true ally, one who Black voters could support for future office. It won’t stymie her political career, but instead will give her an opportunity to help end systemic racism in this city and maybe even the state and beyond.

 

DISCLOSURE: I have absolutely no connection to Teressa Raiford or her campaign. I have not been asked to write this piece nor has anyone contributed to the language above. I write as a concerned citizen who has been terrified and terrorized by the path taken by Portland and the U.S. I’m not sure the country is savable. But with the right mayor, Portland might be.

 

F.I. Goldhaber

F.I. Goldhaber's words capture people, places, and politics with a photographer's eye and a poet's soul. As a reporter, editor, business writer, and marketing communications consultant, they produced news stories, feature articles, editorial columns, and reviews for newspapers, corporations, governments, and non-profits in five states. Now paper, electronic, and audio magazines, books, newspapers, calendars, broadsides, and street signs display their poetry, fiction, and essays.

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