By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
As thousands of Central Oregonians call for reform, Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel says now is the time to act.
Standing outside the old county courthouse, where over the weekend nearly 2,000 people gathered to protest police brutality and social injustice, the county’s lead prosecutor on Monday issued a call for systematic changes to local and state policing, prosecution efforts and sentencing guidelines.
“In 15 short days, we’ve seen our community mobilize, be energized, unite, and speak with one voice like we’ve never seen before,” Hummel said, referencing the May 25th death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. “That one voice is clear as a bell and it’s a clarion call for action: We demand changes to our criminal justice system and we demand them now.”
Hummel said Floyd’s death “lit a fire in our country that sent people to the streets to demand a criminal justice system that works for all Americans.”
“It’s incumbent upon me and other leaders to respond,” he said.
Hummel said he will no longer accept donations or endorsements from law enforcement unions, officers or criminal defense attorneys. He is developing an “emerging adult program” to provide appropriate treatment options for criminal suspects between 18 and 25 years old as well as a program to provide more social services and treatment to veterans suspected of crimes.
His office will also partner with Allyship in Action “to advance equity and social justice in our office through customized assessment, education, and long-range planning and support.”
“I’m proud of the work me and my team in the district attorney’s office, many of whom are here today, have done to ensure justice is delivered in our community,” he said. “But these last two weeks, you’ve told me loud and clear that I’ve not done enough. I’ve seen you, and I’ve heard you. I see you now. We need to do more.”
Before Hummel started talking, several public defenders came out onto the lawn to tell the DA to take action and use his position to do more, before returning inside.
More than 50 protesters also gathered at the event, many holding signs, also asking pointed questions and saying “Act now!”
Hummel called on lawmakers in Salem and Washington D.C. to act as well.
He laid out several laws that needed to immediately pass including requiring all Oregon police to wear body cameras, the repeal of Measure 11 mandatory minimum sentences, and a ban on chokeholds and strongholds by police officers except when deadly physical force is justified.
Currently, Redmond and Prineville are the only two local police agencies to employ body cameras. The Bend Police Department and Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office are exploring the idea, but Bend PD has said it would cost at least $1 million.
Bend Police Chief Jim Porter say he disagreed with Hummel’s comments on certain holds.
“There’s not unlimited uses of choking someone in the state of Oregon,” he said. “To totally remove that would like telling an officer, ‘This day you can’t carry a gun’, because in fact, it is a lethal use of force that the officer may have.”
Additionally, Hummel said the Legislature should refer the death penalty to Oregonians for a vote.
Earlier Monday he sent a letter to House and Senate leaders announcing his calls to action, requesting lawmakers lean upon Portland Sen. Lew Frederick and the People of Color Caucus in considering criminal justice reform.
“I put forward my call to action today, with a full appreciation of the privileges that were bestowed on me at birth, as a white, male, American, born into a family of means,” he said. “I don’t know what it is like to walk our streets as a black man. It’s therefore incumbent on me to educate myself about the experiences of people of color, and to be an ally to people of color, but at the end of the day, it is people of color who know what is best for people of color.”
Some of those who listened to Hummel said they liked what they heard, but want to see it play out.
“I believe that he definitely has a voice that has portrayed what we want t be done what we want to see happen, the struggle is that we haven’t seen anything yet and there’s been talk about these things for a while,” said Mylea Parker.
Said Adam Hostetter: “I think they’re meaningful but at the same time I am pessimistic about if anything will be done long term.”
Hummel highlighted several criminal justice reform efforts he has championed over the years, including a moral opposition to the death penalty; being the only Oregon district attorney to advocate a law to require the recording of grand jury hearings and the decriminalization of marijuana.
He also said he was the first, and for a long time, only, DA to advocate for a requirement Oregon jury verdicts be unanimous. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of that in April.
“Today is not the beginning of my advocacy for criminal justice reform, nor will it be my final word on the issue,” he said. “We need to never stop working on making our criminal justice system as just as possible, and I always want to listen and learn from you about your ideas to make it better.”
Central Oregon Daily’s Anyssa Bohanan contributed to this report.