PORTLAND, Ore. — The National Coalition on Police Accountability held a conference Oct. 15-17 at Portland State University to provide an up-to-date assessment of the struggles to curb police brutality and violence, end racial profiling, and establish effective review boards to monitor police conduct.

In conference workshops, several participants stressed the importance of coalition work and reaching out to labor, accenting the high social and financial costs of police misconduct, and pointing out how the enormous U.S. criminal justice system drains resources from other vital social programs.

The Rev. Harriet Walden, a founding member of Mothers for Police Accountability (MFPA) in Seattle, described her group’s success in working with organized labor and the A. Phillip Randolph Institute in building ties with the city’s African American churches. MPFA advocates the establishment of elected civilian review boards, and says the real guarantee of public safety is living-wage jobs, education, effective drug treatment and counseling.

Police accountability activists urged vigilance after advances are won. For example, many cities have seen their civilian police review boards watered down by police representation or otherwise weakened. Similarly, relatively recent crisis-intervention training for police officers has been lost in several cities.

Several conference-goers noted that cities with a history of police corruption, like Chicago, for example, have higher rates of the use of deadly force by police officers.

Another source of concern is the growing use of Tasers, or powerful stun guns, by police. One participant said there’s a thin line between using Tasers as an instrument of control versus using them as an instrument of punishment.

Conference speakers included the Rev. Charles Stovall, president of the Texas chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; former members of civilian police review boards in Minneapolis and Portland, a Chicago anti-death-penalty activist; a woman from Oakland, Calif., who was widowed by police violence in 1993; and a member of the Los Angeles Coalition Against Police Abuse.

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