Oregonian: For Oregon cops of color, George Floyd’s killing brought anger, disgust and layers of complications
Author: Maxine Bernstein
Posted: July 6, 2020

To read the original story, visit the Oregonian.

They’ve been taunted as “sellouts'' for wearing a police uniform. They look around at roll calls and see few other officers or supervisors of color.

They’re Black officers who say they have had to work hard to find their bearings in a traditionally white profession.

But today, as a rising movement against police brutality and systemic racism rocks their cities, they face a new level of scrutiny, introspection and doubt.

In interviews with The Oregonian/OregonLive, seven Black officers from different agencies and stages in their careers talked about how the death of George Floyd has affected their lives, both on and off the job, over the past month and a half.

One wondered if it was time to turn in his badge. Another said the current climate has only bolstered his desire to serve as an officer. A third said Floyd’s case prompted her to remind officers under her command that they must speak up if they witness wrongdoing by another officer.

Most are disturbed that people are quick to generalize, stereotyping all officers as racist.

All said they carry the burden of their dual roles long after they remove their uniforms and are at home with family or friends. They face harassment both on and off the job and are struggling with mixed emotions of anger, frustration and sadness.


Willie Halliburton said he was sickened when he watched the videotape of George Floyd calling out that he couldn’t breathe.

Floyd died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck as the minutes ticked by and three other officers watched. They all face charges, the most serious – second-degree murder – against Derek Chauvin, the one who pinned a handcuffed Floyd to the ground with his knee.

Halliburton, 54, said he descended into a daze of depression and asked himself if he should quit. He retired from Portland police in 2016 after working just over 25 years and has been with Portland State’s campus police for four years.

“I cried like a baby. I broke down and wept,” Halliburton said. “First of all, for his family and having to go through that torture. Second, for 32 years I’ve given this profession everything I have, my heart, my soul.

“All the trust. All the commitment. All the promises I’ve made to the communities that I will make a difference in this world. All of that stuff was gone in a matter of 8 minutes and 46 seconds. I cried and I was questioning my future in this profession.”

About a week later, Halliburton awoke after working the graveyard shift to a call from the interim chief of the university police force: His promotion had been approved.

Halliburton thought he was shedding his sergeant’s stripes for those of lieutenant. Instead, he learned he was being named chief.

He was stunned but ecstatic. “I knew I’d have a chance,” he said, “to really make a difference now.”

He said he recognizes the profession must undergo an overhaul “to make sure this doesn’t happen again” and wants to be at the forefront of the reforms.

He steps into the top role as students have renewed calls to take guns away from university officers, a controversy that rose to the forefront after campus police two years ago shot and killed 45-year-old Jason Washington while trying to break up a chaotic fight outside a nearby bar. Washington had earlier confiscated a friend’s gun and was holding it when officers ordered him to drop it, then fired.

Late last year, the university agreed to pay $1 million to Washington’s family, with an agreement for additional training for campus police. A Multnomah County grand jury found no criminal wrongdoing by the officers involved in Washington’s death. Both have since left PSU’s force.

Halliburton said he supports keeping the university’s police force armed but will be open to hearing students’ concerns.

“We need to have armed police at PSU to keep the campus safe,” he said.

He advocates a policing culture centered on the relationships that officers form with the people they pledge to serve, he said. He wants the nine sworn officers and eight unarmed campus public safety officers under his command to work to earn the trust of PSU students.

When he started at the Portland Police Bureau, the agency drummed into officers “you have to protect yourself. You’ve got to go home at the end of the night,” he said.

But police shouldn’t be trained to look at everyone as a threat, particularly people of color, he said.

He remembered getting a call about 15 years ago from his then-19-year-old son after the teen was ordered to the ground by Portland police at gunpoint while he was running to catch a bus to get to a MAX train from his job at Nike. Police later told him that his son “matched the description” of a robbery suspect.

Officers need to be well-trained and more importantly, Halliburton said, they need to bring “good attitudes about who they serve and respect for who they serve.”

As a veteran officer, Halliburton said he’s developed a thick skin to the public backlash now directed at police but it’s more difficult for younger officers.

He draws from his days as a young officer in Portland in the early ’90s during the Rodney King race riots when people would sometimes hurl insults at him on the street for being a cop, he said.

“Knowing my intentions were different than what they were saying, I was not distracted by the noise,‘' he recalled. “I was still focused on my goal.”

He tells other officers not to take the insults they hear personally.

On a recent night, several students walked past the campus police office on Southwest Broadway returning from downtown protests and Halliburton said he thanked them for their activism. They seemed surprised, he said.

“A Black officer thanking us for standing up against police brutality? It’s all about admitting it, acknowledging it,” Halliburton said. “If it wasn’t for people protesting against injustice, I wouldn’t be where I am now.‘'

To read the rest of the story, visit the Oregonian.