Oregon People of Color Caucus Recommends Improvements for Police Accountability

  In response to the murder of George Floyd by white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, and the ensuing wave of public protests across the nation, the Oregon Legislative People of Color (POC) Caucus jointly announced last week in a press release that they will ask their colleagues in the Oregon Legislature to take at least three specific actions this year to improve police accountability.  

“The issue is simply two words: Accountability and Trust,” said Oregon state Sen. Lew Frederick (D-Portland), a member of the POC Caucus. “Both are broken. It will take a major effort to establish them in our society. The myth that the system was sound has been overturned. Now the work begins.” 

The first item on this agenda concerns a new law that would prohibit an arbitrator from lessening disciplinary action against a law enforcement officer after it has been determined that the officer has committed misconduct. The concept has been approved unanimously twice by the Senate, as Senate Bill 383 (2019) and Senate Bill 1567 (2020), but has yet to pass the house. The POC Caucus is requesting that this bill be included in any proposed policy bills that the legislature considers in an upcoming special session.  

Second, the POC Caucus is requesting the consideration of a new legislative concept that would both authorize and require the Attorney General to investigate and prosecute, if evidence dictates, any death or serious physical injury resulting from the use of force by a law enforcement officer. The POC Caucus stresses that such instances demand independent investigations, and that the Oregon Department of Justice is the appropriate agency for conducting them.  

Third, in order to reform the state’s laws regarding the use of physical force or deadly physical force in making an arrest or preventing an escape, the POC Caucus requests that the House Interim Committee on Judiciary immediately convene a bipartisan work group in order to recommend changes on this matter. They hope that this work will lead to a bill for the 2021 legislative session.  

“In this historic moment, our words are not enough,” the House POC caucus members said jointly. “Only true concerted action can act as a salve for the wounds caused by centuries of targeted state violence on Black and Brown bodies. By prioritizing these criminal justice reform bills, we are upholding our commitment to extend protection under the law to all Oregonians. We are telling structural racism and police brutality that time is up, that justice is nigh, that not only will you be held accountable for your actions, but you will uphold the values in your oath of office: to faithfully, honestly, and ethically protect and serve.” 

The members of the Oregon Legislative People of Color Caucus include Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon (D-Woodburn), Rep. Janelle Bynum (D-Happy Valley), Rep. Diego Hernandez (D-Portland), Rep. Akasha Lawrence Spence (D-Portland), Rep. Mark Meek (D-Oregon City), Rep. Andrea Salinas (D-Lake Oswego), Rep. Tawna Sanchez (D-Portland), Sen. Lew Frederick (D-Portland), and Sen. James Manning (D-Eugene). 

By JD Brookbank