The Only Black Man Seated in the Oregon House Says State Police Pulled Him Over Twice in Three Days

Rep. Travis Nelson’s commute home to Portland has been rocky.

State Rep. Travis Nelson (D-Portland) rallies support for Tina Kotek in the final weeks of the Oregon governor's race. (Blake Benard)

State Rep. Travis Nelson (D-Portland) says he’s been pulled over by Oregon State Police twice in three days on his way home from the Capitol. Nelson is the only Black man seated in the Oregon House.

Nelson, a nurse who replaced Gov. Tina Kotek in House District 44 (North Portland), first tweeted about his run-ins with the law on the evening of Feb. 1 and, in response to questions from reporters, followed up with a statement on the afternoon of Feb. 2.

Rep. Travis Nelson tweet

“I’ve been stopped by law enforcement over 40 times, so this is nothing new to me,” Nelson says in a written statement provided to WW. “My white colleagues have not been profiled the way I have throughout my lifetime, and they certainly have not been pulled over by OSP twice in three days for low-tier offenses as I have been.”

Nelson says the first stop came Jan. 30 when he was going 11 miles over the speed limit but slower than other drivers around him. The second, he says, came on Feb. 1 when he held his cellphone while taking a call on speaker.

“While I was let off with a warning on both occasions, I know that things could have ended very differently,” Nelson adds. “I know that I could have been the next Tyre Nichols. I’m grateful to be alive and to be able to call attention to the change we need in our system.”

Nelson is currently the only Black man serving in the House. But other Black lawmakers, including state Rep. Janelle Bynum (D-Happy Valley) and state Sens. Lew Frederick and Kayse Jama (D-Portland) and James Manning (D-Eugene) have talked previously about excessive police attention. In 2019, Bynum passed a law prohibiting response to 911 calls made to report people for being Black after a nervous constituent summoned a Clackamas County sheriff’s deputy to check on Bynum, who was canvassing in her neighborhood.

Nelson noted that the stops come at a fraught time—not only did they follow on the heels of Tyre Nichols’ funeral in Memphis, but: “Yesterday was also the beginning of Black History Month, and I couldn’t help but think about that as an officer ran my license and registration for the second time in 72 hours. It was clear that the officers on both occasions were checking my information to see if there were any outstanding warrants for my arrest,” Nelson says.

“With the support of House Democratic leadership,” he concluded, “we are in the process of reviewing the racial data on OSP stops, and once we have this, we will be sure to review and see if there are next steps that can be taken.”

State Police Capt. Kyle Kennedy confirmed two different troopers pulled Nelson over and that both gave him warnings.

“Troopers stopped Rep. Nelson for violations related to speed, lane use, and using an electronic device while driving,” Kennedy said. “Enforcement of these violations is emphasized in OSP’s Fatal Five directive and are related to our efforts to increase traffic safety and reduce fatalities on our roadways.”

Kennedy added that the agency will look further into the circumstances of the stops.

“OSP has spoken with Rep. Nelson and heard his concerns regarding these stops and the potential for racial bias,” he said. “We take any allegation of racial bias seriously and are committed to eradicating racism from our profession, and we seek to understand how our enforcement efforts impact the communities we serve.”

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