Aaron Campbell Hearing – January 20, 2021, noon Eastern
Transcript: Hearing on the Case of Aaron Campbell
- Rapporteur Marjorie Cohn
- Commissioner Mr. Max Boqwana
- Commissioner Judge Peter Herbert, OBE
- Ms. Marva Davis, the mother of Aaron Campbell
- Mr. Tom Steenson, attorney for the Campbell family
- Charlotte Kates, Commission steering committee
Marjorie Cohn 00:00
Welcome to the hearings of the International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence Against People of African Descent in the United States. These hearings are a process by which witnesses can present accounts of the unjustified killings and maimings of Black individuals by police officers in the United States before an international panel of human rights experts. We now begin the hearing of Aaron Campbell. My name is Marjorie Cohn and I am the rapporteur for this hearing. Presiding over this hearing today is Commissioner Max Boqwana of South Africa, and Commissioner Peter Herbert of the UK and Kenya. The witnesses for this hearing are Tom Steenson and Marva Davis. There will be 50 minutes for this hearing. Witnesses will testify, followed by a period of questions from commissioners. I will call time at the 30 minute mark, and the 45 minute mark. Please excuse my interruptions, Commissioners Boqwana and Herbert I now present to you the first witness Tom Steenson, Tom Steenson, please confirm your name.
Tom Steenson 01:25
Marjorie Cohn 01:27
Do you promise that your testimony to the Commission of Inquiry will be true to the best of your knowledge and belief?
Tom Steenson 01:35
Marjorie Cohn 01:37
You may begin.
Tom Steenson 01:39
Thank you for giving me and Marva Davis, Aaron Campbell’s mother, an opportunity to talk to you today about his death. I’m a retired civil rights attorney. In over 40 years of practice, one of my specialties was police misconduct cases. I represented Marva Davis and Aaron’s estate in litigation against the City of Portland and its police officers responsible for the unjustified killing of her unarmed son by shooting them in the back.
Tom Steenson 02:07
Exhibit 31, please. Aaron shooting received — is the exhibit up? Aaron’s shooting received both local and national attention. Reverend Jesse Jackson, long known worldwide as an advocate for human and civil rights, came to Portland in February 2010, to join with Aaron’s family and large numbers of community members to grieve and at the same time protest Aaron’s death. In Reverend Jackson’s own words, Aaron’s death was and I quote, an execution and to put Aaron’s death in context, in Portland, like elsewhere in this country, there’s a long history of systemic, racially biased policing within the Portland Police Bureau, leading to disparate treatment, and sometimes lethal violence against people of color, and particularly African Americans. In 2000, arising out of communities’ concerns about racial profiling, a blue ribbon panel on racial profiling was convened by the Portland Police Chief that led to the collection of data on traffic stops to determine whether racial profiling was occurring.
In 2009, a different Portland Police Chief acknowledged that the Bureau’s traffic stops data evidenced the same racial profiling that has been found nationally in places like New York City. Most recently, in 2019, the Portland Police Bureau acknowledged that nothing has changed, and I quote, “national and local statistics highlight long standing disparities in the criminal justice system for people of color, particularly African American individuals.” And local statistics are derived in part from the Portland Police Bureau’s collection of traffic stops data and use of force data which evidence the existence of systemic racially biased policing within the bureau. Here’s a summary of that data.
Over the past 20 years, African American drivers have been two to three times as likely to be stopped by the police as white drivers. When stopped, African Americans are searched at two to three times the rate the whites are searched. However, significantly less contraband such as drugs or weapons are found on African American drivers than on white drivers. This racial profiling has continued unabated with no discernible attempt by police officers, police officials or the City of Portland to put a stop to it. Sadly, one is left to conclude that racial profiling is an accepted policy practice of the city and its Police Bureau.
Similarly, the Bureau’s use of force data evidences a disparate amount of force being used against African Americans. For example, in 2009, the task force to the Chief of Police found that 29% of persons subjected to force were African Americans, while only 58% of all persons subjected to force were white. Those numbers demonstrate a substantial disparity. Given that the African American population at the time was about 6%, the white population was about 75%. The report concluded that the task force was unable to offer any conclusions as to why force was used almost five times as often on African Americans as on whites, as one would expect from their relative populations.
Similarly, the Bureau’s Training Advisory Council issued a report in July 2020, which and I quote, shows a statistically significant difference between the overall rate of force experienced by subjects perceived to be Black compared to those perceived to be white. And, of course, anecdotally, and consistently, my sense of what has been happening in Portland, I’ve been informed by those who closely monitor police misconduct that approximately 25% of people shot by the Portland Police, both before and after Aaron Campbell was shot and killed, are African American, even though their population in Portland has remained steady at approximately 6% of the total population. The takeaway from this is that whether because of overt racism, or implicit bias, at least statistically the color of your skin makes a difference in interactions with the Portland Police.
Now with this context, this background, let me tell you what happened to Aaron.. In January 2010, Aaron Campbell was a single 25 year old African American man with two young children living in Portland. Exhibit two please. This photo shows Aaron’s two children with Marva Davis in approximately 2009. Aaron was very close to his younger brother, Tim, who had become sick and hospitalized in mid January 2010. Exhibit one please. This is Aaron helping Tim with lunch in the hospital, possibly on January 28, when Aaron spent the entire day at the hospital with Tim. Around 9am the next day, Aaron learned that his brother had passed away and became distraught and somewhat suicidal. On January 29, after Aaron’s brother had passed away, Aaron’s girlfriend Angie told her aunt that Aaron was suicidal and an attempted suicide with a gun.
Sometime around 4pm that afternoon, the aunt called 911 to request a welfare check on her niece. As a result, Portland Police officers were dispatched and departed to conduct a welfare check on her and Aaron. Officers knew from the dispatch that Aaron was suicidal, who might be armed with a gun, and officer Lewton arrived. He was assigned to the custody team and asked by a supervisor to get his 12 gauge less lethal beanbag shotgun in case Aaron came out of the apartment unexpectedly. Exhibit three please. Which is a police photo of Lewton’s shotgun taken after the shooting. All police photos were taken after the shooting.
Lewton’s shotgun uses a regular shotgun cartridge propelled by standard gunpowder. When shot it sounded much like an ordinary shotgun. The cartridge contained a beanbag projectile, which was a cloth pillow filled with 40 grams of lead shot. When the beanbag struck someone, it was very painful and akin to being hit with a line drive baseball. Officer Frashour arrived to the call about one hour into it. He was assigned to the custody team with the role of lethal cover officer, armed with a lethal AR-15 semi automatic assault rifle. Exhibit four please. This is a photo of Frashour’s assault rifle and unfired round taken after the shooting.
After Angie left her apartment, Lewton overheard her tell the police that Aaron had calmed down, and was in the apartment. Police going into the apartment would aggravate the situation. Aaron had a gun, and that her three small children were inside the apartment. At the time Frashour arrived, other officers were positioned around the apartment complex and location and had Angie’s apartment under surveillance. Frashour and Lewton positioned themselves behind a police car in the middle of the parking lot with this driver side door open. Exhibit five please. This diagram was prepared by the police indicating where the apartment is located, where officers Frashour and Lewton were positioned behind a police car with the driver side door open in the middle of the parking lot and where the other 12 officers and two sergeants on the scene are positioned.
Added to the original police diagram is the path Aaron took in the parking lot with the arrows which I will discuss in a moment. The parking lot was well lit and there were no obstructions to vision. Exhibit seven please. This police photo contains a view looking south from behind the police car where Frashour and Lewton were positioned. Exhbit 11 please. This police photo contains a view looking north towards the police car from Frashour’s position. After he arrived, Frashour learned that Angie was out of the apartment but the three children were still inside. He also learned there was a text message from Aaron to Angie stating something like, Don’t make me get my gun I ain’t playing.
Frashour and Lewton knew there were numerous officers on the scene and other officers working in committee to communicate with Aaron who was in the apartment with the children. Shortly after arriving at the scene, the three young children left the apartment and came out into the parking lot. A minute later Sergeant Reyna radioed that officers were to hold their positions. 16 minutes later the sergeant radio that they were on the phone with Aaron. Seven minutes later the sergeant radioed they were getting positive feedback from Aaron and were still in communication with him. Although the police had suggested to Aaron that he come out of the apartment, that information — that information was not communicated to the custody team.
At 6:07pm, Aaron walked out of the apartment. After he came out the communications team radioed that Aaron was being compliant. The plan was to get Aaron mental health assistance. Aaron walked out of the apartment both hands on the back of his head, sidestepping and moving east in the parking lot. Exhibit five shows Aaron paths sidestepping from west to east. Lewton told Aaron to stop and slowly walk backwards towards the sound of his voice, which he did. Lewton thought he steps for too big and told him to slow down. When Aaron did not slow down still walking backwards, Lewton told him to stop which he did. Lewton then told him again to slowly walk backwards towards the sound of his voice. He did, which left him 10 to 15 feet from where Lewton and Frashour were when he was told to stop, which he did. Exhibit five please, which shows Aaron’s path where he stopped before walking backwards towards the police car. And we stopped for the last time.
Lewton then told Aaron to do exactly what he said or he would be shot. Aaron turned his head with his hand still in the back of his head and said something like, go ahead and shoot me. Aaron then turned his head so he was looking away from the officers and stood in place. Lewton told him to put his hands straight up in the air. Aaron kept his hands in the back of his head and did not move. Lewton told him again to put his hands straight up in the air and he did not move. As Aaron stood there with his back to the officers still 10 to 15 feet away. Lewton started shooting Aaron with his less lethal beanbag shotgun.
Aaron was struck in the buttocks once or twice, causing him stumble before he started to run for safety towards a parked car and the alcove of Angie’s apartment. Lewton has stated to police investigators that he shot Aaron to force him to comply with his instructions to move his hands from the back of his head to straight up in the air. In the span of just a few seconds, Lewton shot at Aaron four to five more times as Aaron ran for safety. Before Aaron reached the parked car, officer Frashour fired his assault rifle and struck him in his lower back. Earlier, excuse me, Frashour and Lewton had a clear view of Aaron’s waistband when he turned around and had his back to them and his hands behind his back, his head. Neither they nor any other officer observed a gun or a weapon in Aaron’s waistband at that time or when he ran for safety after being shot by Lewton. And in fact, Aaron was unarmed.
30 minutes elapsed before the police allowed any medical attention to be given to Aaron. By then he was dead. It was disputed evidence regarding what Aaron did with his hands while running. Frashour’s given conflicting statements. After Aaron was shot and fell to the ground, Officer Frashour looked at officer Lewton and said and I quote, “His hands were going towards his waistband. And I thought he had a gun.” End of quote. Later, after having talked to his union representative and an attorney, Frashour changed his story and claimed that he saw Aaron bring his left hand down behind his back, turn about 45 degrees, and by the time he finished turning, Aaron’s hand was completely in his pants beneath his waistband.
More consistent with what Frashour originally told Lewton, other witnesses tell police investigators that Aaron appeared to be reaching toward the place where he had been shot with the first beanbag round. It seems pretty clear that Frashour’s second version was a lie conjured up to protect him from the consequences of what he’d done.
Now I want to turn to the issue of discipline for officers Lewton and Frashour. Typically, internal investigations by the Portland Police Bureau, the complaints about excessive force being used, result in findings in favor of the officer and no discipline. In fact, to my knowledge, no officer who has been involved in an in-custody death, or an intentional shooting, such as Aaron’s, has ever been disciplined. Over several months following Aaron’s death, there were several Portland Police Bureau internal investigations and reviews, all of which found that officers Lewton and Frashour violated bureau policies and training. As a result along with demands by the family and community members for discipline of the officers, the Portland Police Chief and the Mayor agreed with the internal findings and recommendations and disciplined officer Lewton, suspension with pay — without pay for 480 hours. And officer Frashour, termination of his employment.
Specific to Lewton’s discipline, the police chief and Mayor found and I quote, “your use of lethal force against Aaron Campbell — less lethal force against Aaron Campbell — is not authorized by bureau policy or training and did not meet the performance expectations for a City of Portland Police Officer. In order for your use of force to been appropriate in this circumstance, Campbell must have displayed at the very least indications of aggressive physical resistance or the intent to engage in aggressive physical resistance. In other words, violent behavior. And in addition, your use of force must have been reasonable under the totality of circumstances. Neither element was met in this case.”
Specific to Frashour’s discipline the chief and Mayor found and I quote, “Your use of deadly force against Aaron Campbell is not authorized by the Bureau policies or training. Your judgment and decision making violated bureau policies, training and the expectations of you as a city of Portland Police Officer. Campbell did not pose a significant and immediate threat of death or serious physical injury to you or others. Further, you are not reasonable in concluding that Campbell posed a threat at the level required to use deadly force. In the totality of the circumstances at the same use of deadly force was not reasonably necessary.”
The police chief and Mayor also laid out a number of factors that they relied upon. Those are in my written submission and in exhibits 14 and 15. I’ll just mentioned a few of those. The reason for the initial call was a welfare check. Campbell was not reported as having committed a crime. He wasn’t wanted for a crime. He was reported distraught and in need of mental health assistance. Basically, the communications between Campbell and the police were positive in nature. He didn’t threaten officers. He didn’t come out with a weapon drawn or in view. He came out with his hands behind his head clasped together. For the most part, he followed instructions.
They had a clear view of his waistband, and neither they nor any other officer observed a gun or any weapon in Aaron’s waistband at the time they first saw him or when he ran away after being shot by Lewton. The two officers filed grievances challenging their discipline. With the overwhelming and largely undisputed evidence, the multiple levels of internal findings within the Police Bureau, and the well reasoned decisions by the Chief and mayor to cause discipline one would expect that discipline of the two officers would be upheld.
An arbitrator did uphold Lewton’s discipline. However, a different arbitrator essentially substituted her opinion for that of the police chief, and found there was no cause for the discipline of Frashour and ordered that Frashour be reinstated with back benefits. As discussed more fully in my written submission, I and others believe Frashour’s reinstatement is the result of a flawed arbitration system required by the police unions contract the City of Portland and state law, which interferes with the ability of the City of Portland and its officials to get rid of bad police officers, particularly those who are involved in police custody deaths, and intentional shooting deaths.
Now I want to turn to the systemic lack of accountability for Portland Police officers who engage in this kind of misconduct, especially those responsible for in custody, or intentional shooting deaths. I’ll talk about the criminal justice system, the discovery process, civil litigation, civil litigation and citizen review. The criminal justice system in Portland, like the rest of the country to some degree or another, does not hold officers accountable for officer involved intentional shootings or in custody deaths locally, as evidenced by the fact that no Portland Police Officer, to my knowledge has ever been charged by a grand jury or the local prosecutors with murder or even manslaughter in such cases. The failure to indict officer Frashour for shooting Aaron in the back is one such example.
One might ask why is that? I and others believe the answer is that the same prosecutors who work with the police every day are the ones who present officer involved intentional shootings or in custody death cases to the grand jury. That conflict of interest and perhaps political considerations as well lead observers like myself to believe that prosecutors don’t pursue cases against the police with the same zeal that they do in similar cases against private citizens, leading to grand juries failing to indict police officers unless outside prosecutors are brought in to handle such cases. History teaches us that this local, as well as nationally recognized problem will only continue. Consistent with the unsuccessful effort to terminate officer Frashour’s employment, Portland’s disciplinary process for its police officers, in these types of cases, is largely ineffective and provides little or no officer accountability. One reason I say that, as I mentioned before, is I’m aware of no Portland Police Officer ever having been disciplined for an intentional shooting death or causing an in custody death.
Civil litigation against Portland Police officers also has unequal consequences when officers engage in misconduct, even if there is a monetary settlement or a trial with a verdict. The damages awarded against the police officer, the city of Portland and/or its insurance carrier pays for anything paid to the victim or the family of the victim. The city also pays for the officer’s attorney fees and court costs and a settlement or a verdict against the officer does not trigger the imposition of discipline or any other adverse consequences for the officer. Portland has a citizen Review Committee, which on its face sounds good, but in practice today is very ineffective and does little to hold police officers accountable for their misconduct. It has no authority to review complaints regarding police in custody deaths and intentional shooting cases, such as Aaron Campbell’s. It also has no authority to recommend or impose discipline on a police officer.
Last November was a very large voter turnout. 80% of the voters in Portland did approve a new citizen led oversight board, which will be able to take a more involved role when overseeing the Police Bureau than its predecessor, including investigating all complaints against officers regardless of the type of misconduct, and it will be able to exact disciplinary action up to and including firing police officers. Not surprisingly, the powerful police union opposes a new citizen run oversight board. And it remains to be seen whether that board will ever be implemented.
In sum, currently, none of the available mechanisms to hold officers in Portland accountable for in custody deaths or shooting deaths are really effective. As a result, officers are allowed to act with impunity. Many observers both locally and nationally, including myself, believe that this failure to hold officers accountable for their actions contributes to the disparate policing of African Americans, including the disproportionate use of deadly force against them. Thank you for listening. After Marva talks, we will try and answer any questions you might have. Thanks.
Marjorie Cohn 24:56
Thank you, Mr. Steenson. Commissioners Boqwana and Herbert, I now present to you the second witness Marva Davis. Marva Davis, please confirm your name.
Marva Davis 25:21
Marjorie Cohn 25:27
Marva Davis, do you promise that your testimony to the Commission of Inquiry will be true to the best of your knowledge and belief.
Marva Davis 25:38
Marjorie Cohn 25:39
You may begin.
Marva Davis 25:42
I come before you today with a heavy heart, a heavy heart because for the last 45 days, I’ve been caring for my dying mother. And she died January the second. It is painful for me to be here, because in the last 10 years of my life, I have lost people who are closest to me. First, my two sons who died January 29 2010. And now, my mother. But today, I want to focus on my son, Aaron Campbell. It is painful for me to relive the death of my son. The impact that it has had on my family is a great loss. My grandchildren are growing up without a father and we miss Aaron very much. Every time someone is killed by the police, it takes us back to that date when Aaron was shot in the back.
Many Black families do not even trust the police department. I have talked to Black leaders, community leaders. And their message to the Black community is, do not call the police. And when you come in contact with the police, immediately begin to record, remain silent and call someone to let you know you’re in the presence of a police officer. I hope there is a bigger purpose in in this in this gathering. And I’m here before you and I hope that we are not just here just to share and to relive this painful experience but that we will in gathering will be prompted to make a difference and that would affect the impact that the police, will impact police’s jobs, their duties, and to be accountable for the crimes against humanity.
And so in telling you this story, I do not want to leave this meeting having to no mission and no purpose. I’m telling you my story. My intentions and hope is that this will ignite and empower us to join forces with me and others to put an end to police brutality. We have to do more than just talk. When it comes to police brutality, we have to do more than just gather at a forum such as this. This is very, very painful. It has been a big purpose and mission behind. There has to be a big purpose and a mission behind gathering here today. And so what I’m asking you to do is to take a good look at police brutality. My question is what is, what would this what is the intention for this? I know that we are not here just to reflect on pain, the painful loss of our children’s lives in the the thoughts that we snuck out of this, out of their life.
And it turned our world upside down. I know there has to be more then to our purpose in being here. Let’s make a difference in our lives and the families with children who are at risk with police brutality. Let’s make an impact on what happens from this point on. Thank you
Marjorie Cohn 30:00
Thank you, Ms. Davis. The 30 minute mark.
Max Boqwana 30:17
Can I kick start quickly. Now I just wanted to, to address Ms. Davis first and foremost, and say to her, please accept our condolences for this tremendous loss that you and your family has suffered. And you must understand that in this gathering is a collective number of human rights defenders, and those that are fighting for justice throughout the world. And please be assured that we are here not just for an academic exercise, but we want to take your pain, your experience to the rest of the world. We want to take your pain, your experience and those that are like you to the collective body of the nations, the United Nations, so that all of us, with the result of your experience, and many of your, of people similar to your situation, can find a collective way to say how do we ensure that police that are meting out this type of brutality are held to account? How do we make sure that there is justice? But in the end, we can raise these things so that the whole world and the police in the United States in particular, understand that this behavior is unacceptable, and it cannot be tolerated, to make sure that it doesn’t continue. So we have undertaken that difficult task.
And be rest assured, we want to keep this matter alive. Because if we don’t, many families will suffer the same way you have done. So we want to thank you for having the courage to come to us, because your courage will indeed be a benefit for many people who will be victims of this type of brutality. So so please be assured, we do this thing with all seriousness that it deserves. And as you can imagine, it is now being discussed throughout the world. So thank you very much. I will ask that maybe to proceed with the questions whether we start with with Tom, I think I think that’s where we need to focus first.
Judge Peter Herbert, OBE 32:52
Thank you, Ms. Davis. I won’t repeat what Max has said. I simply endorse everything he said. And obviously the condolences for the recent death of your mother as well. I’m actually – tired is not the right word – saddened by listening to this litany of abuse. And before I ask a question of Tom, who gave a very thorough presentation of what happened that night, is that actually, on my visits to the States and different parts of the world, I am struck by the fact that this type of police brutality and racism only endures because the majority of white people aren’t bothered that it endures. And there’s a face by, there’s a book called Faces at the Bottom of the Well, which they get the the author and he said exactly that not my words, but his.
And therefore what has not happened is that it has not been economically unproductive for white police officers to kill African Americans. If it ever became economically or politically unproductive, they would not do it. And viewed from the United States, from the UK, from Kenya and most other police forces as the statistics 163 people died in the United Kingdom in police custody in 10 years. 13 were people of color. That’s 8% compared to 3% of our population in the present population, And Finland, Norway, Sweden, most of the officers are armed but they do not shoot each other. So for me, on my visit to the States is that I found that even the majority of African Americans did not go out on the streets and demonstrate when the Black Lives Matter movement took hold. And certainly white people did not get out and demonstrate until the vicious murder of George Floyd. And so for me that that’s challenges. I don’t know, Tom, it’s not for you to answer for everybody, and it’s not for Mavis to speak on behalf of the whole people. But it is striking in a sense that as a people, the United States tend to perpetuate gun violence.
And just my final thought, and I apologize for taking far too long. This time, though, it’s important. I took part in a police training exercise in Georgia run by the Georgia FBI in 2008, on exchange with the Metropolitan police. We were given as an example on a video such as coming to the door with knives on stays fixed. And within a space about 10 minutes after we’ve been shot repeatedly, in this training video, we actually really shot everybody, we shot we shot the suspects, we shot other police officers, we even on occasion shot each other. And for me that the the lesson of that was if you give human beings weapons they will use them. So as an outsider, I just — the recurring police…is the video you can see on YouTube, of police officers in London who are no angels by any means surrounding a Black man wielding a machete and a sword. And they wrestle him to the ground with 10 shields, no taser, no shotgun, no weapon, no nothing. And so there are legions of examples all over the world of the non lethal application of force by human beings against each other without shooting individuals and killing another human being. I just have to say that. I’m sorry for that long resume. I just wanted to get that off my chest. And the question for Tom is this. Oregon is one of the ones to be meant to be one of the more enlightened parts of the United States.
Supposedly, I was on a police authority in London for eight years, we had the right to go anywhere we wanted. And it was still deaths that occurred on our watch, but I dare to say it did make some difference. And I just wondered, what does the community, the voters of Oregon, do you think the lawyers of Oregon, the judiciary, who are at the more liberal end of the spectrum, what consensus about the necessity of having the police accountable to the people who put them there, and let them and pay their wages, for essentially paying for them to commit executions in the public name?
Tom Steenson 37:29
Well, historically, in Portland, which I’m most familiar with, police chiefs are usually overseen by the mayor, sometimes another commissioner, but usually the mayor, almost all mayor’s come in and change the police chief. Each change promises good, and safety, and all those things you hear from essentially politicians. But the reality is, once in place, the mayor, the city officials, ignore the Police Bureau. The police chief is allowed to handle things the way he or she chooses. And the union is so incredibly powerful, that essentially, what the union wants done in terms of policing, with the emphasis on officer safety, with kind of a us versus them mentality is what prevails.
And you see that, for example, in the racial profiling statistics, why is it that no one’s ever said, No, let’s stop doing that. You see it in the use of force statistics. Why has nobody ever really said, we’re just going to stop doing that. And in part, I think it is in substantial parts because of the police union, that essentially writes the rules and creates the practices that the police chief kind of nods to, and there’s no real oversight. from above. I think that there has been a change in this last year with the George Floyd killing and an outpouring of grief and outpouring of protests and marches. And there’s been a change, I can guarantee you that that new citizen run Oversight Board presented to the voters a year ago, that would not have passed by 80%. I’m not sure it would have passed at all. So I think there is some hope in that regard. But it may not ever see the light of day, it may not ever survive the challenge.
Judge Peter Herbert, OBE 39:44
Max Boqwana 39:46
Thank you. Thank you, Tom. Maybe Tom just two questions. And based on your, on your long history of involvement in matters of this nature and I asked it of Judge Murphy the other day. And from the time you started practicing 40 years ago, have you seen any improvement in terms of which the African American have been treated by the police? And maybe if you can just pause that, and there is another, you qualify to answer? Why does America see African American males as the enemies of the state, not deserving the right to dignity, even the right to life? And that can just be dealt with in execution style, similar to the matter that we’re talking about? Why is that? So because it seems to be systematic, and part of the DNA of the law enforcement agencies.
Tom Steenson 40:49
There are two things. I think, in part one, law enforcement people are just people. And they, they meaning our society, and particularly our white society, this country, have never really come to a reckoning with slavery. And what that has meant and continues to mean. And I think in terms of our history, and how people think about people of color. And we, we did not think, people of color, particularly African Americans were human, because we enslaved them. And I think the remnants of that continues to today. I also think within police departments in this country, they’re they’re kind of a quasi military organization. They have a structure, they have command levels. They think about military approaches, uses of force, as opposed to peaceful interactions.
And that can be changed. But no one, as I mentioned before, no one over the history of the 40 years, I’ve been doing police cases in this town has ever really done anything to change it. You know, they tinker with the policies, they tinker with the training. But this but the basic attitude of us versus them in that police department remains the same. And another thing I’ve mentioned, I don’t know what the percentage is, because they won’t give us addresses. There’s no requirement that police officers live in Portland. So they flee to the suburbs. So not even part of this community in that sense. And I think that would make a difference. If officers were actually from the community, living in the community that they’re also policing rather than going home at night, to some other place. If this was really their home, I think that might help. It is a small point, but I think that’s something that can be accomplished.
Max Boqwana 42:56
Thanks, Yes, Peter.
Judge Peter Herbert, OBE 43:00
Thank you. I know there were calls for defund the police. But actually, what that I understood it to mean is that you reallocate police resources into prevention of crime. So I understood that it would be about drug rehabilitation, it would about diverting young people from crime, it would be about accessing people to mental health professionals so that you would not, in many, many cases even call a police officer, it would be a social worker or mental health worker that would attend. And to what extent do you think the BLM movement, and the suffering of Ms. Davis and many, many others across the United States may lead to a sea change in the way that the police are actually funded? Where those funds are allocated?
Tom Steenson 43:46
I think it remains to be seen whether that’s really going to happen again, the police shoes are so powerful, and so well connected. I’m not sure that’s a reality. I will say that there is some, I don’t know what the numbers are in terms of money, but there is some reallocation of resources going on in Portland right now. At least what they say they’re going to do is start sending out to call like Aaron’s, it’s a mental health call, it’s a welfare check. And they didn’t have a single person there who had any experience in dealing with people on a mental health level. There weren’t a professionals there with those kinds of skills and experiences to interact with Aaron. Instead, it was a police effort with guns. And that’s the wrong approach. There is some change now where they’re going to start sending out people to welfare calls or mental health crisis situations, people with training and supposedly without the police being there, at least to, police not be in the front line of the interaction.
And that will, I don’t know if it’s going to reduce the overall police budget or not what it would be that kind of defunding that, I’m not sure where the money’s coming from.
Marjorie Cohn 45:02
There are five minutes remaining in the hearing.
Max Boqwana 45:08
Thanks, Marjorie. Just one last question, Tom, what role then should be of the community oversight or the police inspectorate, directorate, can play in firstly, in keeping up with the standards consistent with the constitution and dignity to people, and also dealing specifically with the brutal police from various police divisions.
Tom Steenson 45:44
I think it remains to be seen. One thing that the city of Portland Police Bureau have been very skilled at over the years, because we are seen as an enlightened city so to speak, they are very good at saying yes to the citizens, give us your input. Tell us what you think. And then they ignore it.
I was on an oversight board for two years, as an adjunct to the Department of Justice coming in and overseeing the City Police Bureau. And we probably passed 50 to 60 recommendations with I don’t know how many sub parts. And they were taken from some of the best police practices in this country, approved by the Department of Justice and other cities like Seattle, New Orleans. And those recommendations, for the most part, got put on a shelf someplace, and were never implemented. And so again, the people at the top, don’t take control. And the people that control the bureau, in large part the union , they don’t want those changes, they don’t want to be, from their point of view, hamstrung in how they use force or who they get to stop. They want it to be wide open. And that’s how it remains.
Max Boqwana 47:07
Thank you. Peter, you can conclude.
Judge Peter Herbert, OBE 47:12
Yes, thank you very much, Max. And just something slightly, and anecdotally, is that one of the things that I encountered in terms of the police training that I saw in the US, in the interaction was the fact that I think they said, this is the what the Georgia police FBI said that a decision on whether to shoot someone is made within half a second. And that by the time somebody turns their back and runs away, if that’s the situation, and obviously it wasn’t here. The decision, the mind, the brain has made a decision to shoot. And then there’s another second passes before that is communicated in action. So people can quite often, and we certainly did it, shot people in the back repeatedly, when they no longer presented any threat whatsoever.
And I — the thing that I was left with is the fact that for the United States, to love guns, means you actually love killing people. The fact, the sad fact is if you give guns and racism and put them together, we are likely to be the victims. And so my lesson in leaving the US was unless that dynamic changes, then in a sense, it’s difficult for Ms. Davis and anybody else in the US to feel safe, certainly going to the United States. I do — it is one of the worst countries in the world that I feel safe as a person of color. And that that has got worse as year by year passes. And I know from South Africa, it’s not an easy place. I think the last time, I left Durban there was the police, killings of each other were about 18,000 a year. The violence in Colombia was 3000 a year.
So I think, I would hope and I don’t know whether the contributors think this is appropriate. There has to be an international response where the United States is held to account to the highest international standard. And if possible, police officers are prosecuted then they are in a sense public. Protest must be manifest and must be massive, peaceful, obviously. And it must be economically driven. I cannot imagine that the power of the Hispanic and African American community, purchasing power is able to maintain a system of injustice like this. If you withdraw your money, and that is certainly what happened in the 1950s and 60s and it had an impact. I’ve just not seen it happen in the US or anywhere else. And you know you will note, in South Africa, that the boycotts in sports and economic boycotts did have a powerful impact. And there is nothing that seems to be on the table that I’ve heard in these few days of the like that we’re proposing.
Marjorie Cohn 50:14
This concludes the hearing in the case of Aaron Campbell. Hearings will resume tomorrow. Thank you.
Charlotte Kates 50:23
Excuse me, Ms. Cohn and commissioners and witnesses, I just wanted to let people know, very briefly, because you may have seen Mr. Lennox Hinds. He is the coordinator of the International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence against People of African Descent in the United States. And you may have seen Mr. Hinds at various times on video throughout these proceedings. So just to introduce him to attendees, Lennox S. Hinds is a Professor Emeritus of Law and former Chair of the Administration of Justice Program, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey. A graduate of The City College of New York and Rutgers Law School, he was awarded City College’s highest Townsend Harris Alumni Award and Rutgers Law School’s J. Skelly Wright Award for contribution to civil rights.
He was a Charles H. Revson Fellow, Center for Legal Education and Urban Policy, City College of New York 1979-1980. In addition to his practice as a criminal defense and international human rights lawyer, he was Nelson Mandela’s US attorney and counsel in the US to the Government of South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa and (SWAPO) of Namibia. He is the permanent Representative to the United Nations for the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. He is admitted to practice before the Unites States Supreme Court, the International Criminal Court for Rwanda (ICTR), the International Criminal Court for Yugoslavia (ICTY), the Permanent International Criminal Court in The Hague and the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He has published and taught about crimes against humanity under international law for more than two decades, and has presented expert testimony on the Crimes Against Humanity of the Apartheid Regime before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Johannesburg, South Africa presided over by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and he has provided tremendous leadership experience and tremendous wealth of knowledge throughout this entire process. And we have several other steering committee members with us today as well, including Beth Lyons. Jeanne Mirer, the president of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and Nana Gyamfi, the president of the National Conference of Black Lawyers. So apologies for the interruption, and thank you again to our wonderful steering committee members and of course, to the witnesses, Ms. Davis and Mr. Steenson, to the rapporteur, Prof. Cohn. And to our commissioners today, Mr. Max Boqwana, and Peter Herbert OBE, Judge Peter Herbert, thank you so much again.
Marjorie Cohn 53:05
Thank you, Ms. Kates.