Here's the problem I have with how Chief Jerry Moore has defended the actions taken by the Salem Police Department during the recent Black Lives Matter protests.
Everything Moore has said is based on a flawed militaristic meet-force-with-larger-force policing philosophy. It's akin to a man explaining why he broke someone's nose in a bar fight when the real question is, "Was the fight necessary?"
In the 10-page report Chief Moore released about his department's response to the protests, there is no real discussion of the overall approach taken. It simply is assumed that tear gas is fine to use on a group of mostly peaceful people, and that a SWAT team should be called out to help deal with them.
At around 2330 hours the crowd was informed there was a City curfew in place, and everyone needed to leave. At approximately 2333 hours, after continuing to have explosive projectiles, rocks and bricks thrown at them, MRT deployed CS gas on the main body (consisting of approximately 100 people) of the crowd.
...Since the previous night was the first time we had ever operated with a curfew in place for the city and it was the first time we had responded to actual riots on the streets of Salem, we had tried to make improvements to our previous night’s plans. Among those changes: We activated members of the SWAT team at the outset to help secure the new police building. We also used members of SWAT to assist as arrest teams for MRT. They were utilized due to the ability to get them into the department quickly upon request and because they are the only other team that is equipped with gas masks.
Yet in a Statesman Journal story published yesterday, "Protesters say Police Chief's report doesn't hold the department accountable," a very different perspective is presented. Here's how the story starts out.
Julianne Jackson said she still has uncomfortable dreams about the first weekend of Salem protests just days after George Floyd's death in Minneapolis.
What began as a peaceful evening on May 31 at the Oregon State Capitol, turned into "one of the most traumatic events of my entire life," Jackson, 35, said.
"I had never witnessed police militarize in that manner against citizens, I mean, people were screaming and running," she said. "It was so volatile and violent."
Nearly a month later, city officials released Salem Police Chief Jerry Moore's after-action report June 29, detailing the Salem Police Department's actions during the protests May 30, 31, and June 1.
The report, sent from Moore to City Manager Steve Powers on June 24, recounts the department's efforts to de-escalate tensions between protesters and militia groups in downtown Salem while asking for compliance to the city's emergency declaration and curfew.
Jackson said she was "shocked" after she read the 10-page memo on Tuesday.
"I expected them to take this stance, but this is not at all what I witnessed," she said.
Jackson attended the protest with her friends May 31, which she described as a "beautiful event."
"I think as a person of color — when I arrived at the Capitol — my heart was really full," she said. "I never realized I had that many allies in my community."
It was later in the evening when Jackson, her friend and a couple hundred protesters began to march toward the Center Street Bridge that they were met with a line of Salem police officers.
The officers were dressed in "full riot gear," she said, with some riding a giant truck and carrying various weapons. "The mood shifted dramatically," she said.
She remembers the protesters repeatedly asking officers to march with them after officers classified the protest an illegal assembly and ordered the crowd to disperse.
"Their response was to shoot tear gas at people, then it escalated," Jackson said.
She said there was no explanation, no attempt at reason — it was a "full-on military-style attack."
So officers with the Salem Police Department came prepared for a riot, then they used tear gas on mostly peaceful protesters. Chief Moore doesn't see anything wrong with this, because his world view of how police are to behave is founded on an outmoded assumption: when trouble arises, police officers should be warriors, not peacemakers.
Today Steve Duin has an excellent opinion piece in the Portland Oregonian, "Retraining the police." Here's some of what Duin says after beginning by describing the use of tear gas in a residential area by Portland police, an action state Representative Tina Kotek said was wrong.
Lovell’s response – a two-and-a-half-minute video on Twitter – lays bare the issues that must be resolved if the cops are serious about protecting and serving this city.
Lovell admits his officers are exhausted. He expressed concern for the residential neighborhood. He argued tear gas was a legitimate, less-lethal response to the “violence and destruction.”
“CS gas is uncomfortable but effective at dispersing crowds,” Lovell said. “We would rather not use it … When tools are restricted that help us disperse crowds, the options are limited to batons or physical force. That makes it more likely that people will be injured.”
Lovell has been a Portland cop for 18 years, and that argument speaks to 18 years of training. Training kicks in when you’re threatened or exhausted. Training keeps you alive. You stay ahead of the force curve. You watch the bad guy’s hands. You don’t wait to see the gun.
You make sure you go home at night, no matter what it takes.
For as long as I can remember, most of us bought that argument. We allowed cops the pretext stops, the benefit of the doubt, and the budget requests, trusting their training and warrior pride would keep us safe.
That changed when George Floyd didn’t make it home on the night of May 25.
Lovell is right. Tear gas has a certain charm compared to a cop in riot gear, swinging that baton. But between “I can’t breathe” and the masked imperative of this pandemic, the stinging optics of tear gas are no longer acceptable.
The community’s standards and expectations have evolved, and the Portland Police Bureau must evolve with them.
That's what needs to happen in Salem also. Chief Moore has done a good job managing the Salem Police Department from a traditional "cops are warriors" framework.
But that framework is outmoded. Moore's report on how his officers responded to the protests needs to be viewed in that light. Tear gas, riot gear, SWAT team -- that's old school. Chief Moore has spent many years operating within that way of thinking about police work.
Now citizens are demanding a fresh way of thinking.
Since Moore has announced his retirement, and the search for a new Police Chief is underway, hopefully the Salem Police Department will evolve into a peacemaker mentality where the use of force is seen as a failure, not as something to be defended, and even celebrated as our misguided president does.