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Jul 21, 2020

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

For 54 straight nights, the city of Portland, Ore., has seen protests against racial injustice. They have largely been nonviolent. They focused on specific demands for Portland police. But in early July, things changed. More armed federal officers appeared. Their tactics became more aggressive. We're talking about things like tear gas, rubber bullets, beating people. Last week, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that unidentified federal agents had been driving around the city in unmarked rental minivans, jumping out and detaining people who simply resembled protesters. They were far from federal property.

The mayor of Portland, the governor of Oregon and the state's two senators have called for federal law enforcement to go. But the head of the city's police union, Daryl Turner, may have a different opinion. After protesters lit a fire in the police union building over the weekend, Turner blamed elected officials for condoning the destruction of the city. And he condemned the protests. Officer Daryl Turner joins us now.

Welcome.

DARYL TURNER: How are you?

CHANG: Good. So let me just ask you directly - do you want the armed federal officers to leave Portland?

TURNER: First of all, we didn't ask them to be here. They protect federal property. What I do ask is that they collaborate with and communicate with the Portland Police Bureau to be able to know and be on the same page as we are with our rules of engagement. And that's not happening.

CHANG: So I just want to make it clear - there has been absolutely zero coordination between local police in Portland and federal law enforcement. There has been no sharing of resources. There has been no planning together.

TURNER: There was at the very beginning. But recently - or in the last week or two, no, there has not been.

CHANG: According to The Oregonian, Portland police marched on protesters with federal agents on Friday and on Sunday. So how could there have been zero coordination?

TURNER: What I mean by coordination is the federal police have their marching orders on how they're going to do things. And that coordination was not made with Portland police. And I do want to go back to something you said in the very beginning. I've never condemned the protesters. I've only condemned the rioters. The people who are protesting peacefully and exercising their First Amendment rights, we wholeheartedly support. I wholeheartedly support that message myself personally, being a Black man in America. But I don't support the violence from the rioters.

CHANG: But I want to understand your thoughts on whether you think federal law enforcement is intensifying the violence that we're seeing in Portland right now. Portland's mayor, Ted Wheeler, told NPR this weekend that he had expected protest violence to subside last weekend. But instead - and I'm quoting him here - Mayor Wheeler said, "The feds stepped in with a very heavy-handed approach, and it blew the lid off the whole thing." Do you agree with your mayor? Have federal agents actually made the violence worse in Portland?

TURNER: Well, that's hard to say because we have seen an uptick in violence, obviously, in the last few days directed towards the federal officers. So I can't totally disagree with that a hundred percent. I think there are other parts of that equation that add to that, but I definitely can't disagree with that statement totally.

CHANG: You have said that there is a large part of you that sympathizes with the message of many of these nonviolent protesters, that as a Black man you agree with a lot of the things that they are talking about. Now, protesters have said that your union is in the way of structural change. I mean, police unions across the country right now are seen by many as forces that have protected violent police officers from facing consequences. What do you say to that?

TURNER: We have about 800,000 law enforcement officers in this country - lots of good law enforcement officers who have lots of good relationships with community members, neighborhoods. When you see what happened in Minneapolis, that is sickening. No police officer should have to look at that and not feel, like, a chill running down their spine, wanting to make sure that that never happens again.

CHANG: But do you think that police unions, in particular, should do a better job of making sure that officers are held accountable for misconduct or for brutality?

TURNER: Now, I can't speak for every police union. I can tell you that we need to make sure that those reforms reflect the needs of the communities we serve. And I call policing evolutionary processes - always changing to the needs of the community. And if police unions have to lead the way, we should.

CHANG: Daryl Turner is president of the Portland Police Association.

Thank you very much for speaking with us today.

TURNER: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.