Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw championed the long worn path to civil rights progress and challenged the city and law enforcement to address racial inequities that still exist during her ceremonial installation as the city’s first African American female police chief Monday.
Three months into her new position, Outlaw chose the Oregon Historical Society’s new exhibit “Racing for Change, Oregon’s Civil Rights Years” as the setting for the formal Portland Police Bureau ceremony, saying the location was no accident.
“I chose this venue because the exhibit Racing to Change: Oregon’s Civil Rights Years affords us the opportunity to address an elephant in the room,” Outlaw said. “Why we are here today? This isn’t just about black history or Portland’s history, this is our history.”
Before an audience of about 150 guests, including members of her own family, friends and supporters, Outlaw presented a snapshot of the roots to racial inequity in Oregon and around the country, and the role police historically had in enforcing discriminatory laws based on race or turning a blind eye when justice failed minority populations.
“Here in Portland the history of racial inequality and displacement still lurks in the undercurrent of a very progressive city,” she said. “If we are to be effective, we must first seek to listen and understand the perspective of those who differ from ourselves.”
Outlaw emphasized the integral role law enforcement must play in the preservation of civil rights for the future, promising even more transparency, and the use of de-escalation techniques as a priority in police training.
“I will carry out my duties to the best of my ability each and every day and it will be done with grace, with mercy, with kindness, compassion, with courage, with honor and integrity,” she said.
The swearing-in ceremony also included educators, entrepreneurs, business owners, public sector representatives, community organizers, advocates, legislators, union representatives and the media.
A former assistant police chief from Oakland, Calif., Outlaw was introduced by Mayor Ted Wheeler during the ceremony. The mayor emphasized that the new chief “was picked not because she was a woman, not because she is black, but because she was the best candidate for the job.”
Wheeler said he plans to partner with Outlaw to create an accountable and transparent police bureau, aligned with community policing principles from former President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
“I trust that she will become… somebody who will work with us as a community to improve police and foster meaningful and trusting relationships between the police bureau and the community that the bureau serves. Her success is our success,” Wheeler said.