Black Portland councilors criticize city and police statement on Tyre Nichols

  • In US
  • 2023-02-02 23:47:00Z
  • By Portland Press Herald, Maine

Feb. 2-Two of Portland's Black city councilors say they are disappointed by the city's statement this week on the killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis.

Councilors Victoria Pelletier and Regina Phillips said the joint statement issued Monday by the mayor, interim city manager, and police chief glossed over Nichols' killing by police, without any mention of race or condolences to his family, and was rushed without input from Black members of the City Council.

"The tragic and brutal murder of Tyre Nichols at the hands of police officers isn't something that can be handled by our white city leaders who just wanted to rush through issuing a statement without consideration of the Black people who serve on the council," the two councilors said Monday night in their own statement.

The killing of Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who was beaten to death by police last month, was caught on video that was released last Friday and has shaken the country.

Pelletier, in an interview Thursday, said she was surprised to see the city's statement, which said the city "knows that tragedies such as these damage the public's trust in local government's integrity, transparency and commitment to protecting the safety and constitutional rights of every person we encounter."

It goes on to say that Portland is committed to building trust in the community and is "honored and privileged" to work with members of the Portland Police Department.

"The actions of the former Memphis police officers are not in keeping with the values of the Portland Police Department and American law enforcement as a whole," the statement said.

But that didn't even begin to cover the depths of the issue, Pelletier said.

"It felt like, 'We're going to make sure people know the cops here aren't like that,' rather than, 'We're committed to understanding the harm that can come from police institutions and we're committed to having those conversations,' " she said.

Phillips said she thought it was important for the city to issue a statement, but also would have liked to see Black leaders consulted.

"I think the main thing is we weren't included in the statement," Phillips said. "It felt like the city manager, police chief and mayor were speaking on behalf of the Black community. We have three Black members of the community on the council. It would have been great for so, somebody to give us a call and say, 'We're working on this. What do you think?' "

Pious Ali, the third Black member of the City Council, said he was in a meeting when reached Thursday afternoon and unable to comment on the statements.

Phillips said their statement was shared with all members of the council before it was shared publicly.

Interim City Manager Danielle West, in an email Thursday, said she gave a lot of thought to Nichols' tragic and horrific death and felt compelled to release a statement.

"As soon as I heard that two councilors had an issue with the release, I reached out to them directly to discuss further," West said. "I let them both know that the statement was not meant to speak on their behalf or that of the City Council, and that I genuinely wanted to discuss any of their concerns in more detail."

Interim Police Chief F. Heath Gorham deferred to West for comment when contacted through a spokesperson about the statements.

Between the city issuing its statement and the councilors releasing their own, Mayor Kate Snyder said she had a "constructive conversation" with Phillips.

"I appreciated the opportunity to hear concerns, share information and get to know one another better," Snyder said in an email.

"When you have conversations about race and police brutality, it can be uncomfortable," Phillips said. "It was a good conversation. It was, 'I just want to let you know where I'm coming from.' "

Snyder said she has also offered to meet with Pelletier "in hopes we could continue the conversation and work together in service to our whole community."

Nationally and in Maine, calls for police accountability and racial justice have increased in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, another unarmed Black man who was killed by police in 2020, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The last use of deadly force by police in Portland was in 2017 when Chance David Baker was shot in the parking lot of Union Station Plaza. The Maine Attorney General's Office ruled that the shooting was justified because it said Sgt. Nicholas Goodman had reason to believe Baker, who was carrying a pellet gun, was about to use deadly force against him, fellow police officers or others.


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