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Mar-21-2013 10:27printcomments

Portland Police as Defacto Colonizers

Are Portland Police a ‘political system of oppression’?

Portland Oregon Riot Police

(PORTLAND, OR) - For a historical perspective on the Portland Police Bureau’s ideological and racist history, read the article by two PSU faculty members in the new (Spring) issue of the Oregon Historical Quarterly. In “Black and Blue: Police –Community Relations in Portland’s Albina District, 1964-1985,” Leanne Serbulo and Karen Gibson study those two decades and conclude that Portland “Police have been critically important agents of an oppressive structure that resisted change in Portland...” They see Portland mayors Terry Shrunk, Frank Ivancie and Bud Clark” and other complicit political leaders as “defacto colonizers with the economic power of those who “belong to the ‘political system of oppression’..”

From their carefully documented history, they find the Portland Police Association (PPA), recognized in 1942 as “the first police union in the nation,” had become by the 1960s a “quasi police force, accountable to no one, that flexed its muscle any time politicians or activists or attempted to reform the police.” They note that not only the three mayors listed above, but even alleged reformers like Neil Goldschmidt or Commissioner Charles Jordan “backed down when the police union dug in its heels.”

Portland police, of course, played a oppressive role before the period studied in the article. The arrest (and execution) of Wardell Henderson and the police murder of Ervin Jones during World War 2 (see the Portland Red Guide, pp. 125, 128), were protested mainly by local leftists, themselves the target of the notorious Red Squad, which the article notes later turned its attention (as the Police Intelligence Unit) on Albina’s black activists.

And the outrages documented in the article and the protection of their perpetrators through sweetheart labor contracts approved by compliant elected politicians are sadly familiar to all Portlanders today. Although beyond its scope, the article names the most recent victims of police violence, although only Ron Frashour who killed Aaron Campbell in 2011 but was reinstated with back pay by an arbitrator, is the only current police officer cited.

Full disclosure: my review of Lionel Youst’s recent book is also in this issue.

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Portland Tribune photo by L.E. Baskow

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Michael Munk tries to glean important but overlooked items from the world media on the issues of the day and posts them on an irregular schedule. Although items can overlap, he also maintains separate lists for activists in Portland, Oregon and the Northwest, and special lists for: Labor, Latin America, Israel, Torture Taxis, Korea, and the Czech Republic.

Michael is a highly praised writer from an important generation whose book, the Portland Red Guide, has received high praise.

"City Commissioner Nick Fish gave me a copy. Sat down on my sofa and couldn't put it down until I finished. Fascinating!"
-- Tom Potter, Mayor of Portland 2005-2009

"Whoop! Whoop! I'm impressed by how many names from Portland's past have not made it into our official histories and public memorials. Some were good friends of mine. Local history is too often overlooked. Good work, Mike."
-- Bud Clark, Saloon keeper, Goose Hollow Inn, and Mayor of Portland, 1985–1992

Visit the new photo gallery on Michael's website:


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