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Portland Police Sergeant to Cops: ‘If You Come Across a Black Person, Just Shoot Them’

A police officer shoots non-lethal rounds at demonstrators during a protest on June 4, 2017, in Portland, Oregon.
A police officer shoots non-lethal rounds at demonstrators during a protest on June 4, 2017, in Portland, Oregon.
Photo: Scott Olson (Getty Images)

This story is about a joke.

This story is not about police brutality or cops shooting another unarmed black man. This story is not about a cover-up or cops getting away with it. This is a story about a joke.

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But in this story, a cop almost gets away with it. Instead of an unarmed black man, police kill a 17-year-old, unarmed black boy. There is definitely a cover-up in this story. But this story is about a joke. This story is about how and why the whitest city in America covered up a stupid little joke to save a stupid little police officer until a black woman bravely stepped in and saved the day because...don’t they always?


This story begins at the end.

It begins at the end of the life of 17-year-old Quanice Hayes. It begins on Feb. 9, 2017, when Portland Police Officer Andrew Hearst pulled the trigger on his AR-15 and pumped three bullets into Hayes’ head. Hayes had a gun. It was “justified.” The end.

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Even though it later turned out that Hayes’ gun was a toy; even though none of the police officers saw a gun; even though Hayes was on his knees surrendering when he was shot; even though Hearst himself testified that he did not see a gun before he fired, he was still cleared of any wrongdoing by a grand jury because...aren’t they always?

According to the Oregonian, on Feb. 12, three days after Hayes was killed, Sergeant Gregg Lewis was instructing Portland Police Department’s Central Command on how to place civil holds on intoxicated suspects and take them to a detox center. Lewis explained that they should determine their actions based on the kind of person they encountered. As he explained what they should do when they encountered a drunk person in a suit and tie versus when they encounter a homeless person, someone noted that people were still mad about the extrajudicial killing of Quanice Hayes, so they should be careful, to which Lewis apparently responded:

“If they are black, just shoot them.”

Isn’t that just hilarious?

Another officer reported that Lewis said, “If you come across a black person, just shoot them,” while others said they were uncomfortable with Lewis’ remarks and offered varying accounts to a lieutenant.

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The Oregonian reports:

According to one account, Lewis told officers to “be smart” about who they removed from inside parking garages for being intoxicated. Lewis, according to this officer, said, “If you come across a guy in a suit and tie that came downtown and had a little too much to drink…he’s probably not the guy you want to detox straight out of the garage. He will most likely sue you. If it’s a homeless guy, you will probably be safe. I doubt he‘s going to sue you.”

Around this time at the roll call, someone mentioned the shooting of Hayes by Officer Andrew Hearst. The person voiced dismay about comments posted online in reaction to an Oregonian/OregonLive article. The commenter contended officers shoot to kill black people but only wound white people.

“Officers began talking about this statement, and then I heard Sergeant Lewis state, ‘Well, let’s just go out and kill all the black people,’” according to the letter. “The officers appeared shocked and astonished. There was some uncomfortable laughter throughout the room, but most officers were quiet. This brought roll call to an end.”

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To their credit, four officers reported the racist joke to a supervisor by the next morning. The Portland police commissioner called Lewis’ remarks “patently racist.”

Then Lewis was no longer working at the Portland Police Department. The end.

I’m kidding—he wasn’t fired.

What actually happened was...

Lewis kept his job for another year. He insisted he was just joking, explaining that he has a “habit of sometimes being a little sarcastic.” Lewis defended himself by saying it was unfortunate that his comment about shooting black people “is being colored as a racial thing.”

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“I remember saying, and I thought it was kind of funny in light of the stupid conversations in the media,” Lewis told investigators. “So you know, unless it’s a black guy, then we just shoot them.”

Finally, on Feb. 2, 2018, almost a year after joking about shooting black people to a group who sometimes shoots black people, Lewis was fired. His termination letter (pdf) specifically mentioned the comments from the roll call, noting he violated department policy on discrimination, harassment, and decorum. The letter added that his high rank exacerbated the situation. This should definitely be the end of the story, but it’s not.

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Of course, Lewis hired a lawyer because...don’t they always?

The lawyer wanted to take Lewis’ firing to arbitration and get him reinstated. The city attorneys determined that there was a chance that Lewis could win, so the City of Portland decided to settle with him. They offered to expunge his firing, give him $100,020.53 in back pay, put him down as “retired,” and allow him to draw his pension.

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All the whites agreed this was the most prudent path. All they needed to do was to get the city council to sign off, and the people who Gregg Lewis joked about shooting and killing would pay him a nice pension for the rest of his life. And since the “whitest city in America” had an all-white city council, it looked easy.

Then Jo Ann Hardesty fucked everything up.


Jo Anne Hardesty is not with the bullshit. Hardesty is a Navy veteran who was one of the first women to work on board naval ships. Hardesty grew up in Baltimore. Hardesty is the daughter of a longshoreman. Hardesty is an activist.

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And Jo Ann Hardesty is a black woman.

In November 2018, Hardesty became the first black woman to ever be elected to the Portland City Council. When Hardesty took her seat in January, she didn’t know about any of this because no one knew. The racist remark, the complaints, the firing, the six-figure settlement, the pension—it was all a secret. The city council, the police department, and city officials had covered it up for nearly two years.

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Now that they had a black woman on the council, they were still going to pay off the racist police comedian. The city council was going to OK the settlement at the Jan. 30 city council meeting. The people didn’t know the details, so the vote would seem like a simple matter of financial housekeeping. Hardesty didn’t want to go along, but she only had one vote, and she would surely be outnumbered. What could she do?

So at Wednesday’s city council meeting, Hardesty waited until it was her turn to speak, and then, like a motherfucking G, Hardesty simply read every officer’s account of Lewis’ racist joke, meaning it would forever be officially on the record. No one could deny it.

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Flustered, Mayor Ted Wheeler delayed the vote on the settlement. Citizens demanded the city release all of the related documents. The city did. The vote is now on hold and people are upset about the secrecy, the lies, and the racism.

“It’s clear we have a broken system,” Hardesty said at the meeting. “If it was up to me, I’d say, ‘Let’s go to arbitration. Let’s fight the good fight because even if we lose it, we send a very strong message that this is just not acceptable. That you don’t get to sit in roll call and make racist comments and you don’t get a payday on top of your city-paid retirement.’”

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And this is why voting isn’t about a president or senator. This is why it is important to have a seat at the table. Just one city councilperson can effect change. The best-laid plans of mice and white men often go awry when one good person steps in. And this time, it was a black woman because...

Isn’t it always?

The End (for real, this time).

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.

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Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty Said White Men Were Hogging the Microphone. They Didn’t Like That.

They called and emailed with angry, often racist screeds.

Two weeks into her job, City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, the first black woman to serve on the Portland City Council, launched an unusual and pointed broadside against the disruptive gadflies who interrupted her first council meeting, and many before.

“I am concerned about how privilege, and, specifically, white male privilege, is limiting the public’s access to City Hall,” she said in a statement Jan. 15. “These disruptions create a chilling effect on people who are unaccustomed to coming to our City Hall to have their voices heard.”

Hardesty was describing a familiar phenomenon at City Hall: protesters, many of them self-proclaimed “cop watchers” live-streaming their own remarks, who monopolize council meetings with hostile screeds.

Mayor Ted Wheeler, white and male and no fan of the disruptions, endorsed Hardesty’s analysis as “factually correct.” But the comment raised the hackles of some constituents. Of the more than three dozen calls and emails from the public that followed, Hardesty’s office reports a lopsidedly negative reaction.

“Sadly, there have been some negative—and racist—comments, reaffirming parts of our white supremacist history, which hurts my heart,” Hardesty tells WW. “Regardless of these outsized voices, though, I believe in the majority of Oregonians who are building our next, more inclusive chapter of our state.”

Here’s a sampling of the public’s response to Hardesty’s statement. The emails, obtained from Hardesty’s office, have been edited for length and clarity.

Was it always your plan to insult a huge portion of Portland’s men or did you just think of it recently? What a sexist, racist, misandrist, ignorant thing for you to say. Not only did you say it, you took it further and broadcast it to the media. I can understand you saying such a thing like that in the privacy of your own home, but no, you have to “Get Whitey” right up front.

Until you apologize just as publicly as you insulted and impugned 80 percent of Portland’s White men I will never vote for you nor will I support any policies you might try to push.

If you think I’m some alt-right Trump Republican, I’m not. I’m a liberal Democrat who voted for Bernie. Even though I’ve never voted for a Republican in my life, I absolutely will not put up with your “Identity Politics” and your race baiting. So until you clean up your act and apologize, you will have one more constituent who will work his damnedest to remove you from office.

******************

Your comments regarding white privilege people who are disruptive in City Hallwas uncalled for. Your comments regarding white privilege shows the racism that you carry on you should not be a commissioner in Portland, so next election year we will see if you still hold that seat.

******************

At the very least, you owe the entire city of Portland, and especially white males,a very genuine, heartfelt apology. There’s nothing in my life that was handed to me because I’m white, and male. I’ve worked my ass off for everything I’ve got, and I willingly give of myself to my community, and to those in need, including three young black boys who played basketball on my son’s team, two of whom had fathers in prison.

They couldn’t afford their uniforms, so I bought them for them. They couldn’t make it to games, so I drove to North Portland to pick them up, and then I would take them home. Sometimes, I would have them stay over for parties with the other boys on the team. There are a lot of good white males in this city, and you just insulted all of us, just because of a few unruly ones you have a problem with. You, Jo Ann, are a racist, and you have no business being in that position.

https://www.wweek.com/news/city/2019/01/23/portland-commissioner-jo-ann-hardesty-said-white-men-were-hogging-the-microphone-they-didnt-like-that/

It’s extremely difficult to fire police officers in Oregon. Portland city attorneys believe that Lewis, who had no previous disciplinary history, would likely win back his job or a larger payment through arbitration.

“What we’re paying for in this settlement is certainty,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler suggested that the city’s difficulty disciplining Lewis lay with arbitrators who, he said, undermine the mayor and the police chief’s authority to discipline public employees.

He said the city has introduced state legislation to address that problem.

But in public testimony, one longtime police reform advocate pointed out that the city’s weak position arguing for Lewis’s termination came from the Police Bureau’s internal discipline guidelines.

“The discipline guide says the most serious discipline you can get for racial bias comment is 120 hours off, which is what is in the agreement you’re signing today,” said Dan Handelman, with Portland Cop Watch. “What you need to do is change the discipline guide, not state law.”

Among those who came to testify against the settlement deal for Sgt. Lewis was Donna Hayes, the grandmother of Quanice Hayes, an African-American teen shot and killed by police officers in 2017.

Donna Hayes reminded Wheeler that he had promised not to tolerate racism or threats of violence by police officers and had said officers who made such remarks would face severe discipline.

“So in keeping your word, you pay him off?” she said. “You are not a man of your word. Instead, you let this racist retire.”

“This is what’s called a lose-lose,” Wheeler could be heard muttering in response, just off mic.

https://www.opb.org/news/article/portland-jo-ann-hardesty-opposes-police-officer-settlement/