Racial Equity at the Portland Police Bureau and Across America

Racial Equity at the Portland Police Bureau and Across America

“I Can’t Breathe”

Michael J. Montgomery
St. Philip the Deacon Episcopal Church

Kneeling demonstrators with "I Can't Breathe" sign.
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder by members of the Minneapolis Police Department, demonstrations have been held throughout the world. All of these demonstrations include one major theme; “Black Lives Matter”.     

George Floyd, a forty seven year old African-America, was arrested on a charge of allegedly purchasing a pack of cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. During the arrest, Floyd’s hands were secured behind his back with a ‘tie-line’. Thereafter, he was interrogated while being seated on the sidewalk before being escorted to the rear seat of a police cruiser.                                                       

Floyd was, subsequently, removed from the police cruiser for (according to the police officers) being disruptive inside the vehicle. However, upon being taken out of the police cruiser, Floyd was placed, prone, on the street along the left side of the Police car.

All four of the police officers who were involved in the arrest held Floyd on the street and against the police cruiser. One officer (Derek Chauvin) kneeled on Mr. Floyd’s neck; another officer kneeled on his back; a third officer kneeled on his legs; and a forth officer stood in front of the cruiser.

Floyd was held in that position, begging for his life, and saying — numerous times — “I can’t breath”. Floyd referred to the police officers as “sir” throughout the entire ordeal. In addition, some citizens who observed the arrest yelled-out “He’s not resisting; let him up”. And, one officer asked if they should turn him over on his back.

Officer Chauvin (a Caucasian man)—who was in charge of the arrest—declined to stop the torture of Mr. Floyd. Moreover, in a final appeal for relief and life, Floyd poignantly called out for his (deceased) mother;  by saying “Mama, help me”. 

After being strangled for eight minutes and forty eight seconds, George Floyd was dead. A County Coroner,  as well as a Medical Pathologist hired by George Floyd’s family, agreed that his cause of death was “Homicide by Asphyxiation”. In addition, the County Coroner cited prior medical conditions for Mr. Floyd as being factors that contributed to his death.

  • All four police officers have been fired. In addition, all four officers have been charged for murder and manslaughter.
  • Chauvin has been charged with Second Degree Murder and Involuntary Manslaughter. The other three officers have been charged with Third Degree Murder and Involuntary Murder.

One of the clear reasons why this case has elevated to a level of international disgust is that the entire murder was memorialized (including dialogue) in a video. As a result, there is no ambiguity about what happened to George Floyd, at the hands — and knees — of four Minneapolis police officers. Thankfully, a seventeen year old high school student, Darnella Frazier, took the video that has been distributed worldwide.   

The international outcry of seeing the video of Mr. Floyd’s murder is a modern version of the outrage that was felt at the site of Emmet Till in 1955. After being lynched and having his body tied to a cotton-in fan and tossed into a river, Mamie Till, the mother of fourteen year old Emmet, insisted that his bloated and distorted body be displayed in an open casket during his funeral.

Beyond the demonstrations that ranged from peaceful marches to riots following Floyd’s murder, a growing call is being made for police reform. Indeed, many advocacy groups, elected officials, and members of the general public are calling for major reforms among police departments, nationwide.

Increasing numbers people and groups are calling for “Defunding Police Departments” among American cities. The term “Defunding” police departments is—at least initially—somewhat controversial. However, the idea of “Reallocating” police department funding in favor of increased resources for municipal programs such as  social service, housing, mental health and community development appears to have growing support.     

Moreover, there is significant support for considering measures such as eliminating chokeholds;  reviewing “Qualifying Immunity” rules;  eliminating “no knock” warrants in drug arrests; requiring police officers to wear body cams and keep them on while responding to a call or during random stops; creating police review panels; establishing nationwide databases of police officer misconduct; etcetera.

Somewhat less known fact among these discussions relates to “Federal Consent Decrees”. These Consent Decrees for police reform were issued by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), during the administration of President Obama and Attorney General Holder.

These consent decrees require significant changes in police department protocols that were the result of “Patterns and Practices” relative to such issues as police brutality, racial profiling, unwarranted uses of force, and histories of discrimination in  police hiring.     

Sadly, the current presidential administration  and U.S. Department of Justice are attempting to disband many of these Consent Decrees. If citizens want to have these measures remain in force, or reinstated, it is important to contact our Senate and Congressional delegation. In doing so, ask that they Demand that the current president and attorney general reverse these disbanding maneuvers immediately. 

The following link will allow readers to examine the Portland Police Police Bureau Cease and Desist order: