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Crime, Law & Justice
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City Club of Eugene: Accountability and Transparency in Local Law Enforcement

Program Date: July 24, 2020

Air Date: July 27, 2020

From The City Club of Eugene:

The death of George Floyd on May 25 set off a series of protests across the United States and around the world, prompting greater public attention to excessive use of police force, as well as concerns about police oversight and accountability. Several other deaths, primarily of Black Americans, including Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, have compounded and magnified calls for defunding or abolishing the police, in addition to other strategies for police reform.

Inspired by these events, local groups have organized marches and protests in Eugene. Newly formed groups—including Black Unity and the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) Liberation Collective  —range in their specific political objectives, but all represent an emerging pool of young activists motivated primarily by the national Black Lives Matter movement.

Like more than 200 communities in the country, Eugene has established some independent oversight of local police through the creation of the Police Auditor’s Office and Civilian Review Board. In contrast to cities like Minneapolis, Louisville, and Brunswick, GA, with larger populations of Black citizens, Eugene is racially quite homogenous as a result of discriminatory policies and practices up to the recent past. More than 83% of the city’s (and almost 90% of Lane County’s) population is White, about 4% is Asian, and less than 2% is Black. The record shows the critical need for independent oversight, to align enforcement with the community’s requirement for impartial justice.

This two-part City Club program series will examine local law enforcement through the lens of recent events.

The first program, Accountability and Transparency in Local Law Enforcement, will focus on our city’s current system of police oversight.  Police Auditor Mark Gissiner, Professor Michael Hames- García, and Black Unity activist Isiah Wagoner will describe how the system works.  They will also highlight potential deficits in that approach and identify opportunities for oversight reform.

The second program, Alternatives to Policing: Reorienting the Scope of Law Enforcement, will pick up where the first program leaves off.  Eugene Police Chief Chris Skinner, local NAACP president Ibrahim Coulibaly, and CAHOOTS co-founder David Zeiss will discuss the scope of local law enforcement and how it has responded to trends in local poverty and public safety, including homelessness, substance abuse, and mental illness.

This timely and urgent conversation will survey Eugene’s history of law enforcement in light of the larger issues around police accountability and reform. At the heart of these programs is a question:  How can we cultivate and enforce greater equity, justice, and public safety in our community, in light of where we’ve been and what direction we want to head?

Mark Gissiner is the  Eugene Police Auditor, a position he’s held since 2009. He has more than 30 years’ experience in civilian oversight, including serving as President of the International Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. He has helped create numerous oversight agencies in the US and abroad, including the Independent Police Complaints Directorate for South Africa and the Ombudsman’s Office in Northern Ireland. He has investigated nearly 100 officer involved shootings.

Michael Hames-García is a Professor of Indigenous, Race, and Ethnic Studies at the University of Oregon. He is the faculty director for the Latinx Scholars Academic Residential Community (ARC) and teaches in the University of Oregon Prison Education Project. In addition to serving on the City of Eugene’s Civilian Review Board, he has also served on the boards of the Community Alliance of Lane County (CALC) and Sponsors, Inc.

Isiah Wagoner describes his important roles as “son, brother, father, Black activist, and member of the Black Unity leadership organization,” a Black Lives Matter-affiliated group of which he is one of the founders. He was born and raised in Eugene, and was educated in Eugene 4j schools.