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What Happened to James Chasse: A Memo Portland Needs Right Now

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Memo Portland Needs Right Now

from The Portland Freelancer

It's official: When it comes to death by our police, there is now more of a chance for the family of an Iraqi citizen killed illegally by coalition soldiers in Bagdhad to get some justice, than there is for an American citizen to receive it in downtown Portland. At least in Iraq there is a chance of an indictment.

I'm not going to wade through the details of the James Chasse case. What happened here was obvious. The city's presentation to the grand jury was based on a description of events that the officer himself first denied. What more do you need?

To the people in charge of this town, here is some advice: I'm sure there are a lot of things about your jobs that you enjoy - the power, the prestige, the fun of being a big deal. But if that bargain comes with participating in something like this, it is not worth it. In fact, it is one of the worst deals you could ever make.

Now there is a silence as the stench of this recent decision hangs over the city. Why can't you civic leaders do something? You're bureaucrats for Christ sake. Can't you at least fire off a memo? I'll even help you write it, okay? Here goes:

"Dear Portland Police Officers, This is from the offices of the Mayor, the Chief, and the DA. It's come to our attention that some of you have been killing unarmed citizens. Now, just because you have gotten away with that in this city in the past, doesn't mean we want you to count on it. In the future we'd really appreciate it if you didn't kill anyone unless it was absolutely necessary. Yes, we know there are tons of rules and regulations and it's sometimes hard to keep track of all the details. But we'd really appreciate it if you tried to remember this one. In fact, the entire city would be grateful.

Of course, we're the first to admit that maybe we haven't stressed this enough lately, so we're instituting a new incentive program. If you're not involved in any blatant killings of unarmed citizens for a whole year, we're going to ask the council to give you one extra paid day off. I know it's not much of a display of gratitude, but it's a start.

Finally, we're also going to have human resources draw up some posters as reminders - maybe a little something you can put in your locker. They'll say helpful easy to remember phrases like, "Please Don't Kill the Unarmed Citizens - They Live Here Too." We'd also like to declare the first Friday of every month as "Don't Kill Any Unarmed People" day.

Now, this city has created a legal climate where police officers can kill citizens and never be charged, and it's something we could protect if it doesn't get out of hand. Lately, however, this exemption has been abused. We hate to have to complain to you as a group because it's always a few bad apples who make everybody look bad, so don't take this personally if you're not at fault. But we need you to work with us, too.

These recent cases like what happened to James Chasse, are just becoming too obvious. Do you realize how hard we have to work to concoct these stories to keep you out of court? What about our needs? Do you think we're not busy enough as it is? Do you think we like manufacturing or selling these ridiculous stories just because you go out and kill somebody? We're busy too, you know. So how about some cooperation?

From now on, if you kill an unarmed citizen in a dubious way, you will be required to provide an airtight cover story that makes sense. No more sloppy testimony that we have to work overtime to explain. All Portland Police officers must do their part and present a plausible explanation at the time the investigation begins. Here's a simple rule we want you to follow: If you can't justify it, try not killing the person. We understand that there still might be some questions but at least give us a version of what happened that we can work with. On some level, it has to make sense. We're serious about this. This last case made very little sense and that makes us all look bad. Frankly, if these were regular citizens kicking and beating someone, and he died, we'd indict them in a heartbeat.

Oh, who are we kidding? Some of you still won't get the message. Look, we hate being sticklers for discipline, but, need we remind you, if you happen to kill someone who isn't armed - in a way that a normal citizen would be charged with murder - it will end up being part of your permanent record. No exceptions. And that's not all. We hate suggesting this, but we may be forced to take legal steps. No, really. This time we mean it."

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