Canby Police Chief Bret Smith has joined law enforcement officials across the nation in condemning four former Minneapolis police officers whose actions led to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in their custody, and who all now face criminal charges for their roles in the incident.
Chief Smith said the city and its police department view their relationship with the community as a partnership, and vow to serve all people with “equal dedication, respect, fairness and compassion.”
“Canby Police officers recognize the badge and uniform are symbols of public faith, and we dedicate ourselves to maintaining that trust,” he said. “We join you in being outraged by the tactics of the former Minnesota police officers, which are in direct conflict with our core beliefs and our mission to protect life. We understand the best solutions come from working together with our community members, and recognize the responsibility we carry to protect and serve.”
The chief’s comments came in the form of a Q&A with the Canby Now Podcast, in which we asked several questions about the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests that have broken out across the country — including in Portland and many other cities across Oregon.
In response, Chief Smith provided a detailed and thoughtful statement, which is included in its entirety below.
He said the Canby Police Department has worked hard over the past decade to improve his agency’s relationship with the entire community, to build and maintain trust with minority segments and to “eliminate police cultures that would prevent our officers from holding each other accountable.”
“Our department members are dismayed and disturbed when such acts take place that diminish the reputation and undermine the heroic work our officers perform in service to our community,” he said. “As we serve our community as a police agency, it is our intent to consistently take the steps necessary to hire persons of integrity, to train and supervise, and to hold everyone accountable for their actions, ensuring what happened in Minneapolis does not happen here.”
Asked about the protests, Smith expressed strong support for the people’s right to peacefully assemble and demonstrate, and said they have raised “legitimate concerns regarding policing policies and practices,” while not going so far as to condone acts of violence, vandalism and looting.
“We are witnessing many people gathering for the purpose of demanding change; specifically for racism in the United States to be exposed and addressed,” he said. “The protests are not just about the death of George Floyd, but about the social and economic neglect and the feeling by many black and minority communities that they are marginalized and are the victims of systemic oppression.”
He quoted from the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. more than once, including one from a 1968 speech that has been cited frequently in the past week: “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
“Many black and minority communities are tired of hearing empty promises of change, the same rhetoric or the language of political correctness,” he said. “The protests are an outward demonstration of the frustrations felt by many.
“Many of the things that are being destroyed, such as government buildings or businesses, or the persons who are being assaulted, such as police officers, are symbols that many think represent violence and oppression or are in some way involved in the activities or wrongdoings the suppress their communities.”
He opposed illegal acts of violence and vandalism, which have been seen from what appears to be a small minority of those participating in the protests, not simply because they are against the law — but also because he does not believe they will help bring about the change that’s needed.
“In essence, riots are not the mechanism to demand justice,” he said, extrapolating on another quote from Dr. King. “It is important to recognize the frustration people are feeling and experiencing, but to justify a serious assault of a woman while she tries to protect her property from criminals looting her business, is an example of promoting further anger and community unrest that will divide and distract us.”
The chief admitted that the issues brought up by the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests are very complicated, and he does “not have a lot of the answers.” But he urged all people to strive to care for and respect one another, and to work together to attain a society more reflective of our shared values.
“Building strong relationships and trust is essential in creating a partnership, where we can work together to achieve a peaceful outcome when faced with a crisis,” he said. “We will always be stronger when we stand together.”
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