Keeping in touch: Notes from the Mayor

Mayor Lucy VinisThis blog aims to nurture our conversation and understanding of the issues before us. Every week, I will provide a weekly update on the activities in the city government, my activities as mayor, and brief reflections on progress, opportunities and challenges. You are invited to respond with reactions, insights and questions. We do this work together.

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Jun 08

June 6, 2020

Posted on June 8, 2020 at 7:08 AM by Nicole Bernstein

Following is the statement I made at the joint press conference on Friday, June 5th,  where I was joined by Springfield Mayor Christine Lundberg and Lane County Commission Board Chair Heather Buch.

Let me say first, I share the outrage and grief at the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, and our community rightly joins in the protests that are rocking the country. As responsible, compassionate human beings, we must not stand silent, and we must take action. 

On Sunday, I was proud to join the thousands of people who came out in protest, calling for the end to systemic racism and police reform. And I thank the young organizers, Madeleine and Spencer Smith, my colleague Councilor Greg Evans, Senator James Manning, Jessica Brown and all of the other speakers who challenged and inspired us.

We have also joined the country in experiencing violence, unleashed  in  fire, destruction, and the threat of more damage.  Sadly, on Friday, the first night of protest, police were faced with an aggressive crowd that ran amok and destroyed several businesses.  In pursuit of creating a safe environment on subsequent nights, our police officers used force—tear gas —sometimes hitting unwitting bystanders or journalists. For many, this alone proves the point: our police department, like many others, needs reform and enlightenment. 

For the first time in decades, our City imposed curfews for three nights to help contain the violence and destruction to property that threatened to overshadow the largely peaceful actions.  This is new and awful territory for us as a community and we—your city leaders—entered it reluctantly.  

Our community is still in crisis.  We are all living on edge -- an edge that is sharper and cuts deeper for Black Americans and people of color for whom this kind of personal and community trauma is all too familiar. 

On Sunday afternoon, Tuesday and Wednesday nights, protests have been robust, loud, and peaceful.  Our police escorted and monitored the demonstrations on bikes, on foot and in cars—without riot gear and pepper gas. As we move forward through these days, we will continue to work to create a safe landscape for the nonviolent, impassioned protests and calls for change to be heard.  

 Our police will continue to strive to balance their responsibilities to save and protect everyone in our community.  We will review police actions; we will make changes; we will learn from the trauma of this time. 

My email is filled with urgent community concerns: demands for police reform, police defunding; and accusations of complicity and complacency.  But it is also filled with recommendations and lists of possible reforms. 

We’ve heard a lot of community interest in the policies advocated for by the 8 Can’t Wait campaign and we value that feedback. 

In Eugene we do have many of these policies in place. We  prohibit chokeholds, require de-escalation and warnings before use of force, and require officers to intervene to prevent the use of excessive force by other officers. We also require comprehensive reporting whenever physical force is used.

In addition, we have multiple tools in place to help ensure accountability to these policies - including body-worn cameras, an independent police auditor, a civilian review board, a police internal investigations team, and a police commission.

While the City of Eugene has already implemented most of the 8 Can’t Wait polices to reduce police violence – we must recognize that the daily experience of Black and people of color in our community continues to feel and be unsafe. It is not enough that we tick the boxes on steps to be taken; we have to actually make things better.  And we have to do that together, with our largely white leadership learning to support the leadership of people of color and listening to what is needed.

This is a crisis on top of a crisis, and people of color are disproportionately and negatively impacted by both. I pledge my commitment to pursue with council and with our Black and communities of color the changes we need to make in our police policies.  I also commit to the long, hard work ahead to dig deeper in working with those communities on the explicit and implicit  barriers confronting them every day in living in our community. It is long past time for a strong  presence of these minority communities in our leadership at all levels and in all ways in our community.  And it is time to bring the strength, insights, and creativity of youth into focus.

We will do this work together.