Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt was officially sworn into office Monday, though he’s occupied the office since early August after outgoing DA Rod Underhill retired.
In a speech streamed live on YouTube, Schmidt spoke about the pains many have experience at the hands of a discriminatory justice system, one that he said has shown little evidence of reform.
He said this summer’s protests proved lessons that should’ve been learned long ago.
“Black lives matter. Again, Black lives matter, Black lives matter, Black lives matter. They matter even when the movement for racial justice drifts from the daily news cycle,” Schmidt said. “I will carry with me the values that those words represent every single day of my administration.”
Schmidt was sworn in by Oregon Supreme Court Justice Adrienne Nelson.
Schmidt was elected in May with 76% of the vote, though his brief tenure has been marked by a rocky relationship with the Portland Police Bureau after a summer of protests that were largely about police violence and racism in the criminal justice system.
Days after taking office, Schmidt announced a policy that resulted in the dismissal of hundreds of low-level, protest-related charges. At the time, Schmidt spoke about appearing to quell free speech directed at the criminal justice system, while police and federal law enforcement viewed Schmidt’s approach as endorsing lawlessness.
During his speech Monday, Schmidt outlined a vision similar to those of other progressive prosecutors across the country.
“Our criminal legal system, as it is currently constituted, frequently falls short of the promise of keeping us safe, and it has in many ways done the opposite,” Schmidt said.
Specifically, he cited the “war on drugs” and overuse of cash bail. He also spoke of the need to do away with mandatory minimum sentences and allow judges, not prosecutors, to determine sentences.
“This system has proven to be expensive, excessively punitive, and frequently discorporate in it’s application to communities of color,” he said.
Schmidt also vowed to combat violent crime and called on leaders to work together to address last year’s spike in gun violence, noting it’s not a problem that can be prosecuted away.
“My office will prosecute violent crimes to the fullest, but this by itself is not an answer,” he said.
Finally, Schmidt announced plans for a larger conviction integrity unit.
“In recent years, Oregon has taken significant strides to protect our population from disproportionate sentencing and implicit bias in policing,” he said. “But these steps do nothing for those who have already been wrongfully convicted or sentenced too harshly.”