Leaders at all levels of government must “do a better job of listening” to concerns about systemic racism and excessive force, in the wake of global protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in police custody, including a candlelight vigil at Wait Park Thursday.
This, according to recent comments by Canby Mayor Brian Hodson, who had voiced his thoughts on Floyd’s killing and the widespread unrest it has wrought in a Canby City Council meeting the previous night.
Hodson reflected on the tragedy and the widespread unrest it has sparked in a thoughtful statement that he shared with other councilors. He began by explaining how he had discussed the situation with his own kids at length, and tried to make sense of it.
He said he asked them what they thought the protests were trying to accomplish, and they said, “to get people to listen.”
“I know I need to do a better job of trying to explain why, and what it is that we should be listening to and listening for,” Hodson said. “I don’t know how many more decades we, as a society, can allow what is happening and what has been happening to go on.”
Hodson, who grew up in southern California, reflected on the trials of the four police officers who faced criminal charges for excessive force after beating Rodney King, another unarmed black man. Their acquittals touched off the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
“I remember being able to look south and see the smoke billowing out from the LA area,” he said. “It’s just hard to believe that we have not learned, not been able to get to a better place in the last 20 to 30 years.”
He also described a recent, “eye-opening conversation” with Canby Police Chief Bret Smith, where they discussed Floyd and the actions by the former Minneapolis police officers that apparently caused his death. A viral video shows one particular officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes.
“The tactic that was used was a lethal force tactic,” Hodson said. “That is not something our police chief condones our officers to use. It is a last-ditch method to restrain somebody, toward a lethal force situation.”
Hodson said he has “tremendous respect” for police officers in general and Canby’s department in particular, which has worked hard over the past decade to build goodwill in the community and transform its image and culture.
“It’s unfortunate that we have a situation where one individual, or in this case, four individuals, tarnish the work of so many other police departments that don’t work in that fashion,” Hodson said. “I wish I could say it’s isolated, but this has been going on for far too long.”
Hodson joined 25 other Portland area mayors in signing a statement by the Metropolitan Mayors’ Consortium, standing “united in [their] support of the peaceful protests which testify to the systemic and institutional racial violence that plagues our nation.”
“There is a long road ahead, but the work must be engaged expediently, and it starts with us at the local level,” the letter read. “As mayors, we must initiate the work with contrition, empathy, open minds and love.”
The only member of the consortium to decline to endorse the statement was Mayor Dan Holladay, of Oregon City, who has come under fire for his recent comments about police killings of unarmed black men.
While not addressing the statement directly, Mayor Holladay said Wednesday that he has worked hard as mayor to not involve the commission on “issues that are not directly impactful to Oregon City.” He also expressed more than once that he has full faith in the Oregon City Police Department, calling it “one of the finest police forces in the state.”