Street Roots is saddened by the loss of Jackie Collins. He died of gunfire in a state of crisis following an encounter with a Portland police officer. He was homeless, labeled a “transient” by media reports, even though he had lived in and called Portland his home for years.
We are saddened by the loss of yet another human life in a state of despair, particularly at the hands of a local officer of the law, a 13-year veteran who no doubt has seen a gamut of experiences on the streets of this city. The information trickling out about the incident is too scant at this time to weigh judgment on the officer, Mr. Collins’ actions, or the circumstances of his death. But the life of Jackie Collins is a well-traveled narrative of homelessness, addiction and desperation that should never end in the sights of a gun. Yet it has, once again.
It would be a real tragedy if the needs of people experiencing homelessness, those in the throes of addiction and/or mental illness, are merely co-opted to complete the picture of out-of-control police officers. The two make headlines when they intersect at violence, but the point is that the issues of mental illness and addiction and homelessness must be constructively addressed well in advance of that intersection, as does the training, capacity and obligations of our police force.
The larger picture is that there are many Jackie Collins’ out there trying to survive. And we as a city have yet to conjure a solution for not only those who have been “out there” for a long time, like Mr. Collins, but the countless numbers of people who are gradually spiraling down toward that same pit of self-medication, hopelessness and crisis.
After the death of Mejia Poot, Kendra James and James Chasse, after the death of Aaron Campbell and now Jackie Collins, all at the hands of police, the people of Portland are more incensed than ever at how this city not only initially addresses, but accounts for its actions when it comes to these deadly confrontations. We may never know of all the peaceful resolutions between officers and people in crisis, and we’re sure there are many, but we do know that too many have ended in tragedy. And the leadership is not there for us to trust the system to restore balance. Distrust fosters more distrust, and we don’t see an exit from this conveyor belt from the police or the city commissioners.
Trust is not forged from 20-hour delays from the police bureau in reporting a fatal shooting by a police officer. Nor does it spring from the fact that the first commentaries on the incident came from the police labor union chief in an attempt to fend off a justifiably alarmed public. And it certainly doesn’t come in the egregious gap in time allowed to interview the officer directly involved in the shooting, even though witnesses are questioned at the site. Accountability is not a process, it is a state of operation, and our city doesn’t seem to feel compelled to live up to this basic tenet of transparency that it uses to defend itself.
Though the latest efforts of the City Council, there is some hope that the Independent Police Review Division, and the process by which we hold our law enforcement accountable, will grow some teeth to truly represent the community at large and not just the police union. There can be no restoration of trust unless this balance is achieved. Street Roots fully supports these efforts.
From the street level, we need a level of interaction that is not equipped with a badge and a gun. Portland needs to invest in outreach workers to work the front line on non-emergency disturbances involving people suspected of needing mental and emotional assistance. We are setting police up for failure if we expect them to be at once the carrot, stick, psychologist and savior.
And we call on our representatives at all levels of government to fully fund the demand for mental health and addiction treatment through supportive — rather than punitive — measures. And that will take all of us shedding stereotypes and recognizing the public health crisis that is growing on our streets.
Because it wasn’t just Mr. Collins and Officer Walters who converged at Hoyt Arboretum that day. It was all of the above. Our lack of city and state leadership to address these problems isn’t changed by the death of one man, but by the actions of all of us here today, tomorrow, and in advance of the death of another.