A coalition of Black community leaders known as Reimagine Oregon say they’re unsatisfied with the incremental progress elected officials have made in responding to a list of demands the group issued a year ago.
The group held a press conference Tuesday to update Oregon media — as well as several lawmakers who joined the virtual meeting — on where things stand since they challenged Oregon leaders to do better by the state’s Black community in a series of requests.
Those requests include major changes to policies on a number of topics including housing reform, policing and community safety, education, public health, transportation, economic development and the state’s legislative process.
In total, the group listed more than 40 specific actions they hoped to see taken by the Oregon Legislature, Metro regional government, the three metro-area counties and the city of Portland.
Reimagine Oregon was established last summer in response to mounting social discourse on equity and racial justice following the murder of George Floyd and the disparities in opportunity and services in America further exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The group is comprised of community organizers and leaders such as Nkenge Harmon Johnson, president and CEO of the Urban League of Portland; Katrina Holland, executive director of housing advocacy group JOIN PDX; Lamar Wise, political coordinator of public employee’s union AFSCME Local 75 and ACLU of Oregon board member; Kali Thorne Ladd, executive director of KairosPDX; Marcus Mundy; executive director of Portland-based Coalition of Communities of Color; Elona J. Wilson, executive director of Next Up, a nonprofit incubator of leaders of color; and Justice Rajee, executive director of Reimagine Oregon.
That’s just to name a few who spoke at Tuesday’s press conference and provided “grades” on how Oregon’s elected officials have responded to the key issues over the last year.
And those grades weren’t particularly favorable.
Holland kicked things off, giving the state an “incomplete, grade forthcoming” for what she described as “incremental progress and promises for the future” on key housing requests. Those include things such as rent cancelation for people affected by the pandemic, removing barriers to housing assistance and more stringent tests to assure fair housing standards are met.
“In our second year of this project… we got a lot of work to do to get to that hopeful ‘A,’ Holland said. “It’s time for catalytic change.”
Holland did acknowledge that there’s been some good progress in terms of helping Oregonians who have struggled through the pandemic to pay their rent with the passage of House Bill 2100.
But according to Holland, there’s still room for vast improvement in the process with which the state uses to push out rent assistance dollars.
Wise took a moment to provide grades for local jurisdictions on their response to policy demands in the realm of police accountability, which were somewhat more flattering.
According to Wise, Reimagine Oregon has been working with Metro, the Portland area’s regionally elected government, and the Washington, Multnomah and Clackamas county governments to look at ways to reform how the region approaches public safety.
Both Washington and Multnomah County received a “B” grade for work they’ve engaged in and investments made in that area.
Clackamas County on the other hand was given an “F” following what the group characterizes as a complete drop-off in communication between Reimagine leaders and the county following County Chair Tootie Smith taking office.
“We would love to continue some type of partnership (with Clackamas County), but there hasn’t been much communication,” Wise said.
The city of Portland was given a “C” grade as Reimagine awaits results of the city’s fall budget monitoring process. Wise said that despite a high turnover rate within the city government that hasn’t allowed much progress, there are some staff within city hall who remain committed to working with the organization on pushing for further accountability within the Portland Police Bureau and an overhaul of policies and practices.
The state of Oregon also received a “C” grade, a mark that had some lawmakers on the virtual call a bit taken aback considering the state’s major push in this year’s legislative session to pass a flurry of police reform bills aimed at many of the specific values shared by Reimagine.
Wise pointed to the body’s failure to pass House Bill 2002 in its entirety as the reason for the “C” grade. Some provisions of the bill were carved out into other proposals, but the bulk of that bill which wasn’t acted upon this year would’ve reformed the state’s mandatory sentencing laws — something lawmakers have had their eye on for years.
Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Happy Valley, who was on Tuesday’s call, and Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, committed to leading that charge in the 2022 short session with support from the legislature’s Black, Indigenous and People of Color caucus.
A few other notable grades included Mundy doling out a “D” to efforts within the legislature to require all bills to include racial impact statements, as well as requiring the same for state agencies during rulemaking processes. Mundy commended lawmakers for bringing those bills forth this legislative session, but noted that they remained stuck in committee when the legislature adjourned in June.
Wilson graded efforts by both Metro and Multnomah County to implement a requirement that community advisory boards be consulted in rulemaking processes as “tentative A” dependent on how those requirements are or aren’t centered around voices of their respective Black communities.
Rajee said that Reimagine Oregon remains focused on holding the state and local governments accountable to the voices of Black Oregonians who have called for widespread reform and more opportunity in the state.
According to Rajee, the group will continue to work with its partners in organizations throughout the state to put pressure on elected leaders to take action in responding to their requests for change.
“We have seen movement, but we have yet to see movement from our elected leaders,” Rajee said. “The movement is in the streets. It’s in our lives. But in the halls of power, we’re still largely resisted, and we’re here to make sure the spotlight doesn’t fade on that fact.”