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What Happened to James Chasse: Letter to Potter on James Chasse/Jim Jim Case

Monday, October 9, 2006

Letter to Potter on James Chasse/Jim Jim Case

from Mary's Great Ideas

The Mental Health Organization of Portland which is closely tracking the James Chasse/Jim Jim case has some good suggestions, including writing a letter to Potter. Here's what I said in my letter to him.

October 8, 2006

Office of Mayor Tom Potter
1221 SW 4th Avenue, Suite 340
Portland, Oregon 97204

Dear Mayor Potter:

I am writing you about the James Chasse case for three reasons: First, I knew him as Jim Jim when he was a young man. I was not close to him, but I knew him as a gentle, nutty young man. It is very difficult to know that he died so brutally and senselessly. Second, my father, now deceased, was schizophrenic. My father, like Jim Jim, did not want for family love and support. Nonetheless, because of his illness, he was at many times marginalized, lonely, and vulnerable. With our current system, it takes no stretch of my imagination to imagine him meeting Jim Jim’s fate, had he been at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. Finally, my vision for Portland is that we are caring and protective of our most vulnerable members. Jim Jim’s death on the streets by a police beating shows a far cry from this vision.

I have recently enjoyed positive interactions with Portland Police, specifically in the person of Officer Christensen, who is a liaison to our neighborhood association (Portsmouth). Having the understanding and support of a police officer when you are attempting to solve community problems is a wonderful thing, and I’m very glad to have experienced it. I see Officer Christensen’s work and style as a result of a kind of policing that you have personally championed in the past, the kind of approach that gives people confidence that police can be trusted with power, and that they are caring partners in seeking solutions.

I cannot rightly speculate on the motives, training, or temperament of the three grown men who beat to death a man who weighed less than I do; a man who, by all accounts, had committed no great offense, if any. But whatever their motives, Jim Jim’s death is a failure. It is the fatal failure of these individuals, who must be held accountable in order for us to believe that our system has integrity. And the fact that these individuals were allowed on the police force is a failure of the system itself, thus we must look for substantial changes to that system.

I look to you for leadership given your position and your background. I hope that the individuals who killed will be held responsible for their actions. I would also like to learn more about what the City of Portland is doing, and will do, to provide the training and resources to police officers who are trying to do their job, and what it is doing to ensure that individuals with a tendency to violence, anger, and frustration are not recruited or allowed to remain in the police force. I have read that you have formed a committee to research the issue of services for the mentally ill in Portland. Thoughtful research and analysis is a positive step, but it must be accompanied by action and commitment of resources. And your framing of the issue as one that goes beyond the police is accurate, but we must not lose sight of what actually killed Jim Jim: Certainly, the criminal justice system should not be the primary care-giver for our neighbors and friends who are mentally ill, but by the very nature of their work, police will often encounter people who are sick, vulnerable, confused, or otherwise not right in their heads, be it because of mental illness, stress, or intoxication. Their problems may not start with the police, but in this case and many others, it will end with them. Please do what you can to see that those ends are not final.

And as far as “cleaning up downtown” goes, I’d rather have piss in the streets than blood.

I thank you for your work for our City in the past, and look forward to your work in the future.

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