The decision by a Red and Black Café co-owner to expel a Portland police officer who came in for a cup of coffee simply for being a police officer was a terrible display and one compounded by co-owner John Langley’s statement to The Oregonian that he would do it again:
"I never expected a police officer to come into the space," he said. "If it happened again, I wouldn't serve him."
As a critic of the Portland Police Bureau’s leadership and their union, I share the concerns of many that the bureau has been out of control. We clearly have problems with how the law is enforced in Portland.
At the same time, I have encountered many individual officers who are professional in their conduct and obviously committed to this city. Showing them the door isn’t the answer. We need to be inviting them in. Portlanders need reconciliation with their police and the place for that to start is, well, over coffee.
One of the basic premises behind community policing is that if officers and citizens talk to each other, work together, and have mutual respect for one another the community will be safer. Clearly, in recent years the bureau hasn’t done a good job on their end. But citizens need to step up to the plate right now as well. We need to be arguing for reform, absolutely, but we also need to be engaging the police on the beat and doing all that we can to build individual relationships with officers so that their reactive, reflexive, and conservative union has less of a role to play in the totality of the relationship between citizens of Portland and the police.
But all the recent deaths of people in police custody and the chaos at City Hall have made reconciliation a difficult goal.
Since Sam Adams came into office and handed-off the mayor’s traditional role as police commissioner to another member of the Portland City Council, I have been urging Mayor Adams to take back the bureau and to provide better oversight. He finally took that step a few weeks ago. At the same time, he named a new police chief.
It was deeply concerning, however, that the mayor announced the appointment of a new police chief, Mike Reese, without any input from the community. Chief Reese is well respected but community leaders – particularly in this climate of distrust – should have been consulted. I concur with the statement made at the time by The Rev. T. Allen Bethel, president of the Albina Ministerial Alliance, who told Willamette Week that the mayor’s decision “says you really aren’t concerned about what’s best for this community.” The mayor’s actions only raised additional questions about the leadership at Portland City Hall and the Portland Police Bureau. Residents of Portland have little reason to trust the process.
In any event, I’ll be inviting Chief Reese and Portland police Officer James Crooker, the man kicked out of the café, over to my house for coffee sometime soon with local clergy just to show them some hospitality during a difficult time for our city. John Langley would be welcome too.