Portland Police Union Leader Worries Protests Can Be Overshadowed By Violent Acts

Jul 21, 2020
Originally published on July 21, 2020 7:05 pm

Federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Marshals Service and elsewhere have been in the streets of Portland, Ore., for at least a few weeks, where they've been clashing with protesters demonstrating over racial injustice and police brutality.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and local officials have downplayed any coordination between those federal forces and the Portland Police Bureau.

Portland Police Association President Daryl Turner said there was some coordination between the local police and federal agents "at the beginning" of the federal officers' stay in the city, but not in "the last week or two."

"The federal police have their marching orders on how they're going to do things," Turner told NPR's Ailsa Chang. "And that coordination was not made with Portland police."

For the tumult in Portland, Turner faults federal law enforcement for a lack of communication with local police, and he said local officials are also to blame for condoning "destruction and chaos" that's happened over more than 50 days of protests.

He talked with NPR about the situation in Portland and his experience as a Black man in America. Here are selected excerpts of the interview:

I understand that you met with Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf last week. What did you talk about with him?

There were several people that were invited to meet with him. ... The bulk of my conversation was hoping that the federal agencies would communicate with local police and adopt our strategies and our rules of engagement. ...

There needs to be communication and coordination to be able to make sure that we keep protesters safe, for them [to be] able to exercise their First Amendment rights of speech and protest as well. And still keeping them safe from the people who want to act out and commit violent acts and rioting. ...

I've never condemned the protesters. I've only condemned the rioters. The people who are protesting peacefully and exercising their First Amendment rights, we wholeheartedly support. I wholeheartedly support that message myself personally, being a Black man in America. But I don't support the violence from the rioters.

You have said that protesters who are damaging property do not want meaningful change and that they define the meaning of white privilege. What did you mean by that?

What I mean is we talk about white privilege in America and how it's different from people of color, how they believe that they can damage property and get away with it and not be held accountable; there are no consequences for that. That's what I meant, because most of the people who are rioting also that we see out here are white. ...

This is a message that needs to be heard. The message that relates to not just George Floyd, but many people who have been in the same situation, many people who have been treated differently because of their race. ... I've been treated that way and other people have been treated that way over hundreds of years. This message is important. This is a time when that message can transcend the history of this country. That message does not need to be squashed, or overridden or hijacked by people who are committing violent acts, who are burning, looting and causing destruction and chaos.

Listen to the full interview at the audio link above.

NPR's Jonaki Mehta and Patrick Jarenwattananon produced and edited the audio version of this interview.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

For 54 straight nights, the city of Portland, Ore., has seen protests against racial injustice. They have largely been nonviolent. They focused on specific demands for Portland police. But in early July, things changed. More armed federal officers appeared. Their tactics became more aggressive. We're talking about things like tear gas, rubber bullets, beating people. Last week, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that unidentified federal agents had been driving around the city in unmarked rental minivans, jumping out and detaining people who simply resembled protesters. They were far from federal property.

The mayor of Portland, the governor of Oregon and the state's two senators have called for federal law enforcement to go. But the head of the city's police union, Daryl Turner, may have a different opinion. After protesters lit a fire in the police union building over the weekend, Turner blamed elected officials for condoning the destruction of the city. And he condemned the protests. Officer Daryl Turner joins us now.

Welcome.

DARYL TURNER: How are you?

CHANG: Good. So let me just ask you directly - do you want the armed federal officers to leave Portland?

TURNER: First of all, we didn't ask them to be here. They protect federal property. What I do ask is that they collaborate with and communicate with the Portland Police Bureau to be able to know and be on the same page as we are with our rules of engagement. And that's not happening.

CHANG: So I just want to make it clear - there has been absolutely zero coordination between local police in Portland and federal law enforcement. There has been no sharing of resources. There has been no planning together.

TURNER: There was at the very beginning. But recently - or in the last week or two, no, there has not been.

CHANG: According to The Oregonian, Portland police marched on protesters with federal agents on Friday and on Sunday. So how could there have been zero coordination?

TURNER: What I mean by coordination is the federal police have their marching orders on how they're going to do things. And that coordination was not made with Portland police. And I do want to go back to something you said in the very beginning. I've never condemned the protesters. I've only condemned the rioters. The people who are protesting peacefully and exercising their First Amendment rights, we wholeheartedly support. I wholeheartedly support that message myself personally, being a Black man in America. But I don't support the violence from the rioters.

CHANG: But I want to understand your thoughts on whether you think federal law enforcement is intensifying the violence that we're seeing in Portland right now. Portland's mayor, Ted Wheeler, told NPR this weekend that he had expected protest violence to subside last weekend. But instead - and I'm quoting him here - Mayor Wheeler said, "The feds stepped in with a very heavy-handed approach, and it blew the lid off the whole thing." Do you agree with your mayor? Have federal agents actually made the violence worse in Portland?

TURNER: Well, that's hard to say because we have seen an uptick in violence, obviously, in the last few days directed towards the federal officers. So I can't totally disagree with that a hundred percent. I think there are other parts of that equation that add to that, but I definitely can't disagree with that statement totally.

CHANG: You have said that there is a large part of you that sympathizes with the message of many of these nonviolent protesters, that as a Black man you agree with a lot of the things that they are talking about. Now, protesters have said that your union is in the way of structural change. I mean, police unions across the country right now are seen by many as forces that have protected violent police officers from facing consequences. What do you say to that?

TURNER: We have about 800,000 law enforcement officers in this country - lots of good law enforcement officers who have lots of good relationships with community members, neighborhoods. When you see what happened in Minneapolis, that is sickening. No police officer should have to look at that and not feel, like, a chill running down their spine, wanting to make sure that that never happens again.

CHANG: But do you think that police unions, in particular, should do a better job of making sure that officers are held accountable for misconduct or for brutality?

TURNER: Now, I can't speak for every police union. I can tell you that we need to make sure that those reforms reflect the needs of the communities we serve. And I call policing evolutionary processes - always changing to the needs of the community. And if police unions have to lead the way, we should.

CHANG: Daryl Turner is president of the Portland Police Association.

Thank you very much for speaking with us today.

TURNER: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.