Unite Oregon responds to Commissioner Fish on the JTTF

Unite Oregon responds to Commissioner Fish on the JTTF

February 11, 2019 

Last week, Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish wrote an op-ed in support of Portland's participation in the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force, which we rejoined in 2015. With all due respect to Commissioner Fish, he gets the issue exactly wrong. Portland is better off out of the JTTF.

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces were created to investigate terrorism. However, in practice, JTTFs have been used to crack down on people exercising their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech or religion. Instead of preventing terrorism, the task forces are instead used to surveil and harass Muslims, people of color and others who speak out against government policies.

Unite Oregon has been active in trying to end the City’s relationship with the JTTF for years, yet the fundamental issues in this debate have not changed. Participation in the JTTF violates the chain of command in Portland by preventing the Police Chief, Police Commissioner, and City Attorney from having any meaningful role in directing officers' work. There is little to no public oversight of the Task Force's actions, and we are asked to simply take on faith that participating agencies are complying with state law - with no way to confirm that they are accountable to the public they are supposed to serve. And remaining in the JTTF sends a chilling message to already-vulnerable communities that the Portland Police Bureau is merely an arm of Donald Trump's federal law enforcement apparatus, harming community trust at a time when it is already low.

Commissioner Fish says that he is not aware of any complaints about the JTTF, or Portland's participation in it. This is not the pro-JTTF argument he thinks it is. The fact of the matter is that we don't know if there have been complaints about the Portland Police Bureau's participation in the JTTF, because of the secrecy inherent in the program. This is one of the primary reasons Portland withdrew from the JTTF from 2005 to 2015.

Since rejoining the Task Force in 2015, the public has not received reports - previously provided annually - as to whether officers assigned to JTTF duties are complying with Oregon law, which prohibits law enforcement from collecting and maintaining information about a person's political, religious, or social affiliations without reasonable suspicion that the person is involved in criminal conduct.

At the same time, we know that the Trump Administration has used federal law enforcement, including the FBI, to profile and target people based on who they are, including Muslims, immigrants, refugees, and local activists. And it's worth noting that one of the key partners of and the largest federal contributor to the JTTF is Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Portland's participation in the JTTF violates our commitment to be a sanctuary city for vulnerable communities, and could well lead law enforcement to violate Oregon's End Profiling Act. That is unacceptable.

Portland is better off out of the Joint Terrorism Task Force. This week, we will urge the Portland City Council to do the right thing by ending our involvement as soon as possible. Join us on Wednesday at 1 pm in front of City Hall for a rally and then at 2pm for City Council testimony to say #NoPortlandJTTF once and for all.

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