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Ending Confrontation with Information

February 29, 2008

Portland, OR - Reacting to allegations of racial profiling by local law enforcement, members of Portland's African-American and Latino communities are planning to teach people how to interact with the police if they are stopped or questioned. The police have been criticized for stopping and searching members of ethnic minorities in disproportionate numbers, and a report by a special commission on racial profiling is still awaited.

A free workshop on Saturday in Portland focuses on teens and what they need to know if they deal with the police.

Community organizer Geri Washington with Oregon Action describes this as an effort to head off confrontations with information, and calls it a different tack to keep kids out of trouble. The free workshop will teach them how to deal with the police responsibly and respectfully, and to know their rights when they are stopped or questioned.

"A lot of folks feel like, 'Well, it really feels like it's because I'm an African-American or a Latino – that's the reason that they stopped me, but there's nothing I can do.' We're going to take that hopelessness away from them."

Washington says the afternoon seminar is timed to train kids before they cut loose for spring break. If the program is successful, it will be expanded to include other cities and counties. Portland created a Mayor's Racial Profiling Commission about a year ago, but some complain that it's moving too slowly, as the city continues to wrestle with allegations of racial profiling by law enforcement.

Problems and arrests can be avoided if young people know what to expect and how to react, Washington adds.

"It all goes back to being respectful and how you say it. This training is going to help you be able to have those conversations, and be able to walk away from a situation ending with this dialogue: 'Okay, well, let me give you a warning.' 'Thank you very much, officer.'"

The "Know Your Rights" workshop is Saturday, March 1, from 2 to 5 PM at the Ainsworth United Church of Christ, 2941 NE Ainsworth, Portland. Admission is free.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR