You understand, I trust, why I must begin with the rescue dog.
Her name is Kailani. A “Lab-Great-Dane-something-Border-Collie mix,” says Valerie Carey, who lives on North Denver Avenue, just ’round the corner from Portland Police Association headquarters.
Kailani doesn’t easily rattle. “Fourth of July fireworks? They don’t bother her at all,” Carey says. Nor was the dog alarmed on the summer nights when Black Lives Matter protesters first descended on union headquarters. “The first march? The drums? Whatever. She would sit and watch with me.”
No longer. “As soon as the cops in riot gear showed up, shooting rubber bullets, she ran inside,” Carey says. Now it only takes a small platoon of protestors to send her racing for her kennel, distressed by what’s to come.
“I put a blanket over it and keep the doors closed,” Carey said. “That’s her safe space.”
Her sanctuary from the anger and the impasse. The frozen water bottles and the bull rushes. The sirens, smoke and, yes, the late-night White House COVID alerts.
Kailani was shivering inside her kennel last Monday – Night 113 – when Carey approached two Portland police cops standing at the edge of her front yard. Police had aggressively moved to disrupt demonstrators earlier that night at Kenton Park, and were still out in force, making arrests.
Carey didn’t complain about the tear gas that so often invades her living room. She did something unique. She started a conversation.
Do you know how to change and end this, she asked the cops? “I’m not trying to throw shade in your direction,” she added. “Is there a way we can take you guys out from having to be in this position?”
Carey owns Sankofa Lumber, which turns waste wood into custom interior panels and surfaces. While she hasn’t marched in Portland, “I was heavily involved in Occupy in Oakland. I always try to talk to the police to get their thoughts. They’re members of the community. It’s pretty rare when an officer will engage.”
These cops engaged. Sergio Olmos of Oregon Public Broadcasting filmed and tweeted the exchange.
“You’re asking how we end it? It’s gotta be citizen and political will,” the first cop says.
“If they were not out here, we wouldn’t be out here. And if people liked our Trump government a lot more, we probably wouldn’t have this issue in the first place,” the second officer says.
Many of the angriest responses to the Olmos tweet hear support for the President here. I don’t. I think the officer is simply arguing that protestors are energized as much by their disgust with Trump as their impatience for police reform.
“We know it’s gonna run all the way to at least the election,” the first cop says. “This could run all the way to inauguration.”
“Well, it could run all the way until cops stop killing Black people,” Carey says.
It’s the pivotal moment in the video. The first cop takes it in, then says, “All true.”
The second officer challenges Carey. “I mean, when’s the last time in Portland, you know? Do you know the last time we killed a Black person in Portland?”
“I’m sure you do,” Carey says.
“But I’m asking you: Do you know?” the officer says. “If you’re going to make the claim that we keep killing Black people, you should be able to tell me when that is.”
(For the record: Jan. 16, 2019. Andre Gladen, who was, by all accounts, in the midst of a mental-health crisis.)
The video, and the conversation, ends there, as spectators begin shouting at the cops, whom the bureau will not identify. Carey thinks the second officer was defensive and confrontational, at the very least.
But she was encouraged by the first cop’s “All true.”
“That gave me some hope,” Carey says. “What inspired me to approach them was reading different comments online from members of the Police Bureau who’ve said, ‘Yeah, we need change.’ I was asking, ‘Are there reforms in the police department that would support you and support what people are protesting about? Is there any overlap of interest?’”
If there are Portland cops who believe that overlap exists, Carey says, “They need to know the rest of us have their back.”
Last week was a tough one for conversations. Ask Chris Wallace. Ask anyone at the Wednesday night memorial for Patrick Kimmons, killed by Portland police in 2018 after he’d shot two fellow gang members on Southwest Third Avenue and ran toward the two cops with .38-caliber revolver in hand. Two hours of that vitriol left me thinking there’s no reason for these protests to continue and no reason to believe they will ever end.
But on Monday night in North Portland, Valerie Carey – who believes in rescue operations – went looking for common ground. She reached out to two Portland cops. They heard her frustration and answered her questions.
If they didn’t find that essential overlap, I hope they keep talking … and the rest of us share that resolve.
— Steve Duin