The hysteria over last year's Homeland Security drills was silly (see "Dear Diary," WW, Oct. 24, 2007). But last week's Navy SEAL exercises, which had helicopters buzzing over downtown while loaded with armed men, were worth fussing over.
Last year's drills were publicized well in advance. This time? No warning. No explanation.
One man—this week's Rogue—could've prevented the confusion.
In November 2007, the Navy asked Portland Mayor Tom Potter for permission to hold the training. In a warm letter dated April 7, Potter gave the nod to "explosive breaching, fast rope insertion, live fire, low power training ammunition, simmunitions, flash bang, surveillance and counter surveillance."
Sounds fun—if you're a Navy SEAL. If you're a Park Blocks retiree or a Somali refugee, you might interpret the sudden uniformed presence differently.
For five months, Potter and the police bureau neglected to tell anyone about the upcoming exercises. The military said it didn't want the training to become an "air show."
Potter should not have accepted that explanation. Portlanders had a right to know.
Other mayors have handled this situation better. In February in Toledo, Ohio, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner kicked out the Marines because their displays of force frightened people. Finkbeiner took some heat, but he was right. We wish Potter had shown more courage—or at least asked more questions. Perhaps he was misled about the nature of the exercises, as Denver's mayor suggested had been the case in his city in June.
"I think next time we would handle it differently," says Potter spokesman John Doussard. Let's hope so.