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Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw Delivers Speech On Race And Policing


Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw poses with sorority sisters from Alpha Kappa Alpha, who filled several rows at her swearing in at the Oregon Historical Society.

Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw poses with sorority sisters from Alpha Kappa Alpha, who filled several rows at her swearing in at the Oregon Historical Society.

Amelia Templeton/OPB

Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw celebrated her swearing in Monday with a ceremony at the Oregon Historical Society.

Outlaw is the the first African American woman to lead the police bureau, and has been chief for a little more than three months. 

She spoke for about 20 minutes to a crowd that included African-American leaders, police chiefs and top justice officials from across Oregon. 

Outlaw used her first major public address since taking the helm of the bureau to deliver a wide-ranging, funny and at times deeply personal speech.

Most strikingly, she spoke directly about race and policing, and the many eras throughout U.S. history when police forces were used to preserve inequality and racial segregation.

Outlaw promised to build a relationship of trust with communities in Oregon.

“Seeking to understand our history is not divisive, nor is it an act of race-baiting, as I’ve heard before. Nor is it meant to be accusatory,” she said. “It serves as a starting point for transformation and positive progression.”

The ceremony was live-streamed on Facebook for officers to watch. She said the department’s rank-and-file officers are “class act people,” she is humbled to work with. 

Retired Officer Carmen Sylvester delivered the oath of office for Outlaw. In 1973, Sylvester became the first African American woman ever hired by the Portland Police Bureau. 

Many of Outlaw’s close family, friends and colleagues flew in from across the country to show their support. 

Clarence Cox, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, traveled from Atlanta to attend. Sorority sisters from Alpha Kappa Alpha, dressed in pink and green, filled several rows. 

“It was an emotional experience for me. I was close to tears,” said Sen. Lew Frederick, after Outlaw’s swearing in and speech. “There are racial barriers. Acknowledging that made a big difference.”

“We need to change the perception that people of color are a little less than,” said Sylvester. “It’s been a great day for Oregon, a great day for the police bureau.”

Avel Gordley, the first African American woman elected to the Oregon Senate, sat in the first row during the ceremony. 

Gordley said Outlaw’s speech evoked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s idea of envisioning a beloved community. 

“I’m absolutely thrilled that we have someone of her depth, youth and understanding of the human heart,” Gordley said. 

Below is audio and transcript of Outlaw’s full remarks. 

I can’t thank you enough. Again, I am wholeheartedly humbled. 

Distinguished guests, colleagues, family, friends.

Thank you.

You might wonder why we’re here today. Why this venue? Why the Oregon Historical Society?

I was very intentional with the selection of this place. I chose this venue because the exhibit, Racing to Change: Oregon’s Civil Rights Years, affords us the opportunity to address an elephant in the room.

According to the Oregon historical society, the exhibit illuminates Oregon’s vibrant black community, their courage, struggle and progress amongst a larger context of discrimination and displacement during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

Again, why are we here today?

This isn’t just about black history, or Portland’s history. This is our history. So please bear with me as a we take a look at a snapshot of the history of policing in the United States.

For many it is known that in the South, the creation of police forces was centered on the preservation of a slavery system. According to an article written by Olivia Waxman titled, “How The US Got Its Police Force,” some of the primary institutions there were slave patrols, tasked with chasing down runaways and preventing slave revolts. During the Reconstruction Era, sheriffs enforced segregation and the disenfranchisement of freed slaves.

Later on, in the 19th Century, it was the era of political machines. So police captains and sergeants from each precinct were often picked by the local political party ward leader who often owned taverns or ran street gangs that intimidated voters. They were then able to use police to harass opponents of that particular party or provide payoffs for officers to turn a blind eye to allow illegal drinking, gambling and prostitution.

But then as the nation grew, different regions made use of different policing systems. Generally, those who looked and acted differently from the people who had dominated cities before drove the calls for preservation of law and order.

Here in Portland, the history of racial inequality and displacement still lurks in the undercurrent of a very progressive city.

An article written by Alana Sequels entitled, “The Racist History of Portland, the Whitest City in America,” discusses how in 1922, photos in the local paper show the Portland chief of police, the sheriff, the district attorney, the U.S. attorney, and mayor posing with Klansmen, accompanied by an article saying the men were taking advice from the Klan.

Also, according to this same article, after World War II, blacks were encouraged to leave Oregon, with the mayor of Portland commenting in a news article that black people were not welcomed here.

And then fast forward to 1967. Race riots exploded in the heart of the African American community. In response, the Portland police bureau was joined by the FBI and the national guard to deal with crowds.

What does any of this, you might be asking, have to do with the police in the United States, the Portland Police Bureau, or Chief Danielle Outlaw?

There is no arguing that law enforcement agencies are responsible for upholding the law and maintaining public order. All though one might be inclined to separate the many civil rights movements from policing, we know that law enforcement will continue to play an integral role, as it has been in many instances one’s initial introduction to the criminal justice system.

We cannot effectively address crime reduction and prevention, community engagement and inclusion, or organizational excellence through an equity and inclusion lens if we ignore our history.

Seeking to understand our history is not divisive, nor is it an act of race baiting, nor is it meant to be accusatory. It serves as a starting point for transformation and positive progression. How can we begin the healing process without first acknowledging what was, during many of our lifetimes?

The history of the Civil Rights movement in this country, and most specifically, in this city, have a direct impact on how we effectively serve the Portland community. We’d be naïve to think otherwise.

And as we all know, when we know better, we what?

We do better. 

Movements such as Black Lives Matter and #SayHerName didn’t arise out of nowhere. Along the same vein, however, neither did the hashtags Blue Lives Matter or All Lives Matter. If we are to be effective, we must first seek to listen and understand the perspectives of those who differ from ourselves.

Much of the policing practices of the eras that I just mentioned are not only dated, but have largely contributed to the distrust and tension that exist between minority communities and the police today.

Twenty-first century policing requires strategic solutions to complex dynamic, and ever-changing problems. Our communities not only expect us to address crime, but they want us to solve larger systemic issues. In Portland, for example, these systemic issues are related to those who are houseless, or have mental health or addiction issues.

Policing today requires law enforcement agencies all over the world to strengthen trust and collaboration amongst the communities we serve, while also continuing to reduce crime. As your new chief of police, you will see me implementing several strategies that promote positive interactions between police and our communities in order to build trust and legitimacy.

We will continue to utilize technology and social media to reduce crime and enhance public trust and I will ensure that solid oversight exist to safeguard accountability and transparency. Additional training at all levels to include the prioritization of de-escalation is crucial to ensure that every Portland Police Bureau employee is performing at their optimal level.

Lastly, an intentional focus on officer safety and wellness is paramount to achieving our goals. True community policing is a philosophy that will be interwoven into the fabric of the Portland Police Bureau. It is not a thing, nor is it a box to be checked.

Upon reflecting on the title of this exhibit, “Racing to Change: Oregon’s Civil Rights Years,” I asked myself: Is this really a race? I think the answer is no. As does erosion, trust building takes time. This is a marathon and not a sprint.

Although I have only been here for a short period of time, I say with confidence that the Portland Police Bureau is moving in a positive direction. Steps have been taken to strengthen the bureau’s organizational infrastructure, new relationships have been formed, data is being used to inform decision making and deployment strategies, mass demonstrations have taken place and concluded with little to no incidents, and work has begun to strengthen the training received by all PPB employees.

As I prepare to close, I challenge us to move beyond our fears of the unknown, and to embrace the commonalities that we all share.

During my short time, here I’ve been asked how I felt about being of a shorter stature. 

And quite frankly given that the average height in my family is about 5’2” with the shortest being about 4’11”, I’ve always thought I was tall.

I’ve also been asked about how I felt about being a police chief at the age of 41. And then I think to myself, I wonder if anyone has asked Mark Zuckerberg about his age when he founded Facebook, or if anyone questioned Commissioner Bill Bratton’s age when he first became chief.

I’ve also read headlines since I’ve been here that read “Danielle Outlaw Wants a Helper.” And then I thought to myself, I wonder if the deputy chiefs of my male counterparts in major cities throughout this country are referred to as helpers, rather than the true No. 2 in any CEO or COO relationship.

I, like you, laugh. I cry. I love. I grieve. I mourn. I celebrate. I make mistakes, and I get right on back up again. And as I learned from my mother, who departed this place, as we know it two years ago…

[Pauses and collects herself.]

Resolution does not always come in the way we expect it to appear. In this room, there are educators, entrepreneurs, private business owners, public sector representatives, community organizers, advocates, legislators, union representatives, media and so much more.

Each of us in this room have a role to fulfill and play a part in enhancing public safety in the city of Portland. Together, we can continue to raise the bar and set the standard of policing as we contribute to this noble profession on national and global levels.

Lastly, I am not the first woman, mother or person for that matter to relocate due to their profession. With that said, none of this can be done without a support system, and I have a very strong one.

Thank you to my family, not only for being here today, but for the very many sacrifices that have been made to make sure that I get to where I need to be.

My children can tell you, there’s been many missed holidays, missed birthdays, missed events, missed baseball games, missed football games. You name it, it’s on the list somewhere.

They’ve endured. They’ve endured being in the public eye. They’ve endured being held to a higher standard, they’ve endured getting snatched up when I get calls from the school because they’ve been showing out and embarrassing me. But they know that there’s a lot of sacrifice that goes along with this. My oldest wanted me to send a shout-out to him. He couldn’t be here. He’s back at school. He attends Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.

Mayor (Ted) Wheeler, thank you very much for entrusting me to be a part of your vision. I see it. I get it. Like you said, together, we will get there.

There is a huge strong community in this room today. If you hadn’t had a chance to see it, take a look around, get a chance to network. But I can’t thank you enough. I’ve only been here for three years.

Was that a slip? Honestly, it doesn’t feel like three years. It’s only been three months. The support and encouragement I have received from day one has been top notch and stellar and I thank you wholeheartedly.

To members of the Portland Police Bureau, if you look around the room you will see there’s not many of us here. I have my executive team here, and the honor guard is here, but due to space limitations, we didn’t have the opportunity to have everyone in the room, to make sure that those who weren’t able to physically be here still had the opportunity to experience all the hiccups and mistakes as they occur.

But I want to thank them for accepting me, and still being willing to push and work hard through times of newness and uncertainty. It’s been nonstop. No one shut down when I got here. They kept going and said, “OK, how can we help you chief? What do you need? I got you.” And I anticipate that it will continue on that way. There are some class act people in this bureau and I am humbled to be able to work alongside them.

I’d be here all day if I kept saying all my thank yous. I’m going to wrap this up. Ms Diane Haymond, I personally thank you for making sure that today went off without a hitch. Thank you.

So, as we leave to return to our respective communities and areas of influence, in closing I ask you to do just one thing for me. Just one. Think about your role, in ensuring success as a community. What is it? What does it look like? Because I can’t do this by myself, I won’t do it by myself.

I’ve accepted my role, and I’m here for the long haul. As you all know, we get more accomplished working together than against one another.

You have my word that I will carry out my duties to the best of my ability each and every day, and it will be done with grace, with mercy, with kindness, compassion, with courage, with honor and integrity.

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