One day after Portland's mayor made historic concessions to an uprising that seeks to defund the police, and a day before the City Council votes to dissolve police units, protesters demanded more—$43 million more, to be exact.
Several hundred people gathered at 2 pm in the federal plaza across the street from City Hall, issuing an orderly but pointed demand that the city make deeper cuts into the budget of the Portland Police Bureau. Organizers argued that cutting $7 million from the police budget was a cosmetic reform—especially when all city bureaus are trimming their sails during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"They're trying to cover a huge deficit, so they make a couple million dollar cut from PPB, and that's supposed to be enough?" said Zia Laboff with the protest group Never Again Action as she handed out a large stack of disposable masks to the public.
On June 9, Mayor Ted Wheeler agreed to demands by City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty and others to dissolve the Police Bureau's Gun Violence Reduction Team. Wheeler pledged to cut $7 million from the bureau's budget, and says he's considering spending some of that money on Portland Street Response, a team that would handle non-emergency calls for service.
The council was supposed to vote June 10 on Hardesty's proposal, but the vote was delayed 24 hours by the death of Wheeler's mother. The council still heard public testimony Wednesday, and protesters still gathered in Terry Schrunk Plaza.
Representatives from various racial justice organizations are collectively demanding a minimum of $50 million in cuts, which protest organizer and activist Lilith Sinclair told the crowd equals the amount the police budget has increased over the past four years.
Rory Elliot, with the groups Care Not Cops and Critical Resistance Portland, said the current proposed cuts to a $244 million bureau budget were a drop in the bucket.
Along with the $50 million cut minimum, activists want to eliminate all special units, dissolve the city's Special Emergency Reaction Team—which has armored vehicles and responds to hostage situations and other high-stakes calls—and leave unfilled any vacant positions within the bureau, Elliot said. They called for an end to sweeping homeless camps and sending cannabis tax dollars to policing.
Their demands match those issued June 8 by Unite Oregon, which seeks to send the money to nonprofits that aid people of color.
"This is a moment in a movement. We're seeing the call across the country for defunding police departments," Elliot said. "We think we can go further of really acknowledging that police don't provide safety. They have a legacy of brutality that is not something that can be reformed."
In the latest example of how a pandemic has reshaped this political moment, the City Council didn't host public testimony in person. Instead, it held a Zoom call. The activist groups Don't Shoot PDX and Care Not Cops set up a booth on the corner of Southwest 3rd Avenue and Madison Street—the kind of tent you'd see at a state fair, but with three laptops where people could join the Zoom call to submit their testimony. Protest organizers encouraged people of color to go first in entering the booth.
Testimony—which continued past 6 pm—was often anguished. "As a black man who has tried to be an asset to the community I have been continually harassed by PPB," one person said.
The council is scheduled to vote on amendments to the police budget on June 11.
In the evening, several thousand people again marched on the east side of the Willamette River—this time to Unthank Park in North Portland—while a smaller, more militant protest of hundreds stood outside the Multnomah County Justice Center. In both places, police officers continued a pattern of restraint that coincided with the arrival of new Police Chief Chuck Lovell on June 8.
Correction: Due to an editor's error, this story incorrectly identified who set up a booth for people to submit testimony on a Zoom call. It was activist groups, not the city.