Militant Journalism

Portland’s war on its Black community

Early October 31, the Grand Jury for Multnomah County in Oregon ruled that the September 30 killing of Patrick Kimmons at the hands of the Portland Police Bureau was justified, clearing officers Jeffery Livingston and Gary Britt of any wrongdoing. Members of the family, activists from Don’t Shoot PDX, as well supporters from the community and other organizations, such as the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Socialist Alternative and Democratic Socialists of America, took to the streets in front of the courthouse. They shut down the building for the day, demanding the release of the full unedited video, the firing of the officers involved, and more broadly an end to the Portland Police Bureau’s campaign of state violence against Black people.

At around 3 AM on September 30, Portland police shot and killed Patrick Kimmons, a 27 year old Black man and father of two. Witnesses and the family say police fired at least 12 shots at Kimmons, hitting him multiple times in the back, and continued to shoot him as he lay dying on the ground. The autopsy, released on November 1, confirms this, showing nine gunshot wounds into Kimmons’ back, several traveling downward into him. Police claim he had a gun on him and had fired back on police, but a witness who saw the entire shooting said that Kimmons had clearly disposed of his firearm before running away from the cops and being shot in the back with his hands up, a claim the family says is corroborated by the full video. Officers even detained this witness and questioned her, as the gun had been dropped near where she was, clearly demonstrating they knew Kimmons had disarmed. The Police Bureau has refused to release the full video of the murder.

Slander, repression, and fascist collaboration

The police, as well as bourgeois press outlets such as the Oregonian, have been quick to try and justify this killing, making sure to highlight his past run-ins with the law, and even pointing to the fact that he had himself been the victim of a shooting in 2014, which the police had labelled “gang-related.” Missing from this discussion of the past has been any talk of the bureau’s record. In the last several years they have slain multiple, including John Elifritz, a homeless man they gunned down at point-blank range inside a shelter earlier this year.

These smear campaign tactics are nothing new, with police departments and their defenders in the government and press consistently trying to slander the victims of police violence in an effort to justify these de facto death sentences they regularly enact. We saw this last year after the 2017 killing of 17 year-old Quanice “Moose” Hayes in Portland, who officers accused of being a violent robbery suspect after shooting him with a high-powered rifle while he surrendered to them on his knees. We saw it recently when an off-duty Dallas officer drunkenly shot Botham Shem Jean after she had barged into his home. Within a week officers there had conducted a search warrant of the victim’s apartment and widely publicized the small amount of cannabis they found. Officers in Baltimore have been consistently caught planting toy guns on shooting victims, which some local activists have pointed out in reference to the aforementioned murder of Quanice Hayes who police claim had a toy gun in his waistband.

This slander rings particularly hollow to the residents of Portland, where just last summer officers peacefully arrested the white supremacist Jeremy Christian after he had just cut the throats of three people, killing two of them, who had tried to intervene in his racist tirade against two women. In this case, police even allowed the racist murderer to finish his beer before taking him into custody, and the PPB regularly conducts similar arrests of people accused of horribly violent crimes without firing a single shot. When the suspect is Black, the story almost always ends differently.

Local fascist organizations and their sympathizers have also been quick to aid the state in enacting this violence and suppressing resistance to it. Earlier in October, during a march the fascist Patriot Prayer organization said was intended to “cleanse Portland’s streets,” they showed up at the memorial for Patrick that had formed at the site of his killing. There they harassed mourners and those defending the memorial,  shouting “USA, USA, USA!” and “Crips’ lives don’t matter.” They showed up again at the protest on the day of the Grand Jury decision, accosting the family and their supporters.

In addition to the organized fascist presence at these protests, reactionary passers-by have also repeatedly rammed their cars into protesters. This first happened at a protest a week after the murder, and then again on Oct. 31, when several drivers drove into the small crowd. One of the drivers, Mark Dickerson, who had hit several people including Patrick Kimmons’ brother, was taken into custody and charged with the misdemeanors of 4th Degree Assault and Reckless Driving, a light charge  considering he had just attempted to kill numerous people.

The killing of Jason Washington

Many of those rising up and demanding justice for Patrick Kimmons are the same people who have been organizing or showing up in support of a campaign that began in late September with an occupation of the Campus Security Offices of Portland State University, in protest of the June 29 shooting of Jason Washington. Under the banner of “Disarm PSU,” activists, students, and members of the victim’s family set up a camp, demanding the immediate disarmament of campus police, the firing of the officers involved in the shooting, and a permanent memorial to Washington on the PSU campus.

At first the university essentially brushed them off, releasing a statement affirming the students’ right to protest and callously tweeting a poll claiming that PSU is ranked 11th in the nation in serving its Black students. Many of those Black students they supposedly serve so well have found this laughable, with Zhanae, an organizer with the Black Student Union pointing out “They made that decision [to arm campus police] at the explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement, how could they? How dare they?”

Despite the obvious and justifiable outrage, students are not at all shocked this happened. In fact, they predicted it. Students and faculty at PSU bitterly resisted the arming of campus police in 2014, fearing exactly this kind of brutal killing. “They were warned,” said Zhanae, “they were warned and exactly what we said would happen happened.”

The university has now relented somewhat, and is ordering a review of the campus’s safety protocols and the armament of its officers. Student’s and activists are doubtful the university will disarm however, and despite ending the occupation are continuing to agitate against the university’s policy and demand justice for Jason.

Revolutionary change is needed

In light of these two most recent incidents, as well as years of similar violence, it is clear that the police of Portland and its universities are waging a vicious war on the city’s Black communities. While some activists and politicians lauded the recent hiring of Police Chief Danielle Outlaw (who also oversaw and helped cover-up much corruption and violence – including a child sex trafficking ring within the police department – at her last position in Oakland) as a progressive step since she is a Black woman, it is clear that this has made no difference.

Police continue to target, harass, arrest, and kill the city’s Black residents with impunity, and no one on the City Council or in the Mayor’s office shows any signs of planning to do anything about it. Democratic Party politicians have held positions in city council overseeing the police consistently for more than 20 years and have failed to prevent or hold anyone accountable for the killings  of Terrell Johnson, Kendra James, Keaton Otis, José Mejía Santos Poot and countless other irreplaceable members of our Black and Brown communities. This most recent shooting bitterly underscores the paucity of liberal reformist approaches to tackling this issue, and highlights the need for deep, systemic change.

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