A listening session with the top echelons of the Portland Police Bureau nearly ended Thursday night when a well known member of the group Patriot Prayer marched to the front of Maranatha Church in Northeast Portland.
People stood up from the pews and chaos ensued as Haley Adams — a well known supporter of far right causes — attempted to confront bureau leaders, even as others waited their turn for the microphone.
Portlanders at the meeting who opposed Adams’ presence demanded she leave the listening session about recently released text messages between a PPB lieutenant and Patriot Prayer’s leader. Those messages raised concern about favoritism at the police bureau between officers and right-wing demonstrators who repeatedly clash with antifascist counterprotesters on Portland streets.
Despite what appeared to be an attempt to hold the highly-anticipated session in a peaceful sanctuary with ties to the black community, police bureau leaders could not seem to overcome distrust and skepticism toward police that has festered, as Police Chief Danielle Outlaw put it, “for years and years.”
“We’re not leaving,” Outlaw said after eventually calling for Adams’ removal. Adams is a known presence at right-wing rallies, and organized a controversial #HimToo rally last year.
The listening session was billed as the community’s opportunity to share thoughts with bureau leaders about text messages between Portland Lt. Jeff Niiya and Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson, first reported by Willamette Week and the Portland Mercury. Mayor Ted Wheeler, Outlaw, Deputy Chief Bob Day and assistant chiefs Jami Resch, Ryan Lee and Chris Davis were present for the meeting that lasted around two hours.
Outlaw, who called for the session, appeared repeatedly frustrated, sometimes leaning forward to request a stop to moments of discord.
At one point, Outlaw sat with her head rested on her hand as a Patriot Prayer supporter took to the mic, agitating crowds.
“Solutions, please. Solutions,” the police chief said under her breath.
By the session’s end, some 50 people remained on a list of those hoping to speak before the bureau’s top leaders.
Those who did speak shared concerns, disappointment and anger. Fewer people at the session shared support for how the police have handled frequent clashes between protest groups in the city over the past two years.
Northeast Portland resident Debra Wilson said current concerns about Portland Police are only the latest in a long legacy of mistrust toward city law enforcement.
“So let me let you guys understand this,” Wilson said, facing the crowd. “Your cry, honey, we’ve been crying this for years. I done been through it, and my family has been through it; my brother has been beaten up by police in the ‘70s. Northeast Portland has always been this.”
Tim Ledwith told bureau leaders that he was assaulted by a member of the Proud Boys in the middle of the day while crossing a cross walk. But, he added, he wasn’t confident the police would do a good job at investigating the incident.
“What bothered me was I didn’t want to participate in an investigation because I have a healthy mistrust of the police and all that,” Ledwith said. “And every step of the way, I was completely validated in that; it seemed like you didn’t want anything to do with it.”
Philip Wolfe, who challenged city commissioner Nick Fish in the November primary as Portland’s first deaf City Council candidate, said he has tried repeatedly to talk to Outlaw and Wheeler but at times hasn’t heard back from them.
“You have a responsibility to speak to us, your community members, and you have to speak to us and work with us instead of white supremacists,” Wolfe said. “I tried to do my part. Where is your effort?”
Community members floated several solutions: more diversity training for officers, rules prohibiting masks and weapons at protests and a wholesale overhaul of the bureau.
Just hours before the session, PPB released a new batch of messages between Niiya and protest groups during a June 2017 protest. They show Niiya communicating with members of the OathKeepers and Patriot Prayer — as well as with left-wing counter protesters.
In a report he wrote about the incident, Niiya said he was trying to talk to people on all sides of the demonstration to avoid a potential violent conflict.
Wheeler has asked the bureau to investigate allegations that communications between Niiya and Gibson show favoritism toward a group of right wing demonstrators. Niiya has been temporarily removed as the bureau’s liaison to protesters.
At one point during the listening session, a section of the crowd accused a man of pushing people in a pew, demanding he be kicked out.
Instead, the man was called up to speak for his turn, resulting in another burst of chaos.
“Can we get some leadership in here?” a person could be heard yelling from the crowd.
The moderator turned to bureau leaders for guidance. But it was Pastor T. Allen Bethel, who sat in the front row with a walker tucked in front of his knees, who took the microphone and got the crowd to calm down. He asked to let the man speak.
“Just look at him,” he said. “And hold him accountable for his actions.”