DATE: December 23, 2019
TO: Mayor Ted Wheeler
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly
Commissioner Nick Fish
Commissioner Amanda Fritz
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty
CC: Local media outlets
FROM: Unite Oregon
As the Spirit Moves Us
Portland Metro People’s Coalition
RE: Justice and the 13-second killing of Koben Henriksen
Our communities are shocked and dismayed by the unnecessary and inhumane extrajudicial killing of Koben Henriksen on Sunday December 8, 2019 and the denial of any responsibility by the Portland Police Bureau and the City of Portland. Although Portland Police Association President Daryl Turner recently stated that deescalation is a part of officers’ continual training and underpins everything they do, from veteran Officer Justin Raphael's arrival at the busy intersection until Mr. Henriksen lay dead in the street, reportedly only 13 seconds elapsed. This is unacceptable. Mr. Henriksen carried a small knife, was obviously in a state of mental crisis, and was even known to police officers in that area for previous incidents of mental health crises. Unofficial reports suggest Henriksen, slow-moving and obviously unwell, was shot in the head with an AR-15 assault rifle from close range after an officer voiced commands at him.
We join others in extending our deepest condolences to Koben Henriksen's family, loved ones, and friends. We acknowledge and elevate the voices of many people in this community and others as they mourn, grieve and attempt to understand and cope with this disturbing and needless loss of life.
Investigations into officer misconduct, both criminal and internal to the police, are now underway. If history is any indication, the outcome of these efforts is predetermined. The Multnomah County District Attorney's office routinely does not bring criminal charges through a grand jury to trial. Similarly, documented historical patterns clearly show Portland Police officers who have used deadly force and excessive force have in virtually all cases not been fired after being investigated by their peers in the police department, and subsequently through any other independent police oversight bodies. These trends have remained true throughout the 2010's, even as Portland Police in 2012 entered into a settlement agreement with the US Department of Justice to address trends of using excessive force against residents in mental health crisis.
The Portland Police Bureau, its former Police Chief Danielle Outlaw, and Portland Police Commissioner Mayor Wheeler have issued public statements that acknowledge the December 8, 2019 event as a heartbreaking tragedy yet avoid any measure of responsibility, instead attempting to place blame on failings of the mental health system. Multnomah County's mental health system did not shoot bullets at Koben Henriksen. City officials have focused their attention on Henriksen's weapon (a small knife), while downplaying the advanced weaponry the officer used to kill Henriksen in such a short time.
City leaders claim that due to the failings of others, police professionals are put in an "impossible situation." This reasoning is both dangerous and contradictory. If these situations are "impossible", then officers cannot be expected to behave any differently, nor can they aspire to be trained to behave differently. This is a dangerous message and we reject it in the strongest possible terms. The fact is, the situation wasn’t impossible. Social workers, teachers, parents, and police officers routinely engage in deescalating community members in the midst of mental health crises without executing them with an assault rifle or by any other means.
City leaders, from elected officials and police leaders to city attorneys and the Bureau of Human Resources, must take effective action to assure that Portland Police officers who use excessive, deadly force can be held accountable by residents and elected officials through a fair and legal process, up to and including termination from wearing the Portland Police badge. To those ends, we reassert our call for city leaders to prioritize demands made by community members, organizations, and the PCCEP board for the city to bargain a justice-oriented contract with the Portland Police Association.
In a country where very few residents have a right to shelter, healthcare, a job or food, let alone effective, on-going, crisis-level mental healthcare, we reject any form of normalized police brutality against residents. We reject Portland Police and Portland City Hall's pattern of deadly use of force against targeted populations, and are disgusted by chronic and willful refusal from many camps to make serious changes to the system that has so failed and hurt city residents. That system includes the PPA contract, but also the district attorney's office, Oregon state law, and long-running everyday neglect of the police discipline guide, training and other city and police policies.
Though always heartened by community solidarity and outpourings of care and compassion, we the undersigned and many others are saddened, troubled and sickened by the killing of Koben Henriksen. We demand the right to live in a city and not be subject to police officers who exercise biased, excessive and deadly force, in a system of government that refuses to adequately respond to decades of community demands for justice.