PORTLAND — City Manager Jon Jennings praised police and Chief Michael Sauschuck on Saturday morning, hours after a Friday night demonstration in support of Black Lives Matter led to more than a dozen arrests on Commercial Street.

“I honestly did not think I could be more proud until Friday night. The commitment and professionalism shown by every member of the Portland Police Department is a tremendous example of what makes this city great,” Jennings said in a statement.

The arrests came around 10:30 p.m. July 15. City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin confirmed 18 demonstrators were arrested and charged with obstructing a public way.

The evening began with a 6 p.m. rally in Lincoln Park organized by the Portland Racial Justice Congress. Protesters left the park at Congress and Franklin streets and marched to Commercial Street.

Some stayed on the sidewalks, but others formed a circle in the middle of the Pearl Street intersection, while police closed Commercial Street from Franklin to Market streets. The street remained closed more than three hours until the arrests were made.

Sauschuck later said in a press conference that the people taken into custody were “ringleaders” who had wanted to be arrested.

After Commercial Street was reopened, about two dozen protesters marched up Market Street to police headquarters at 109 Middle St. The street was closed by police until the demonstrators dispersed.

“I want to thank Chief Sauschuck and all the men and women who serve our city bravely and with great sacrifice,” Jennings said. “The city administration supports our Police Department wholeheartedly and can never thank them enough for all they do to keep us safe.”

In the hours before the protest Friday, Sauschuck said he and his department are committed to building relationships with the community they serve.

“I am very proud of the men and women who work here, and very proud to be working on behalf of the city of Portland,” the chief said in a press conference outside police headquarters.

Sauschuck was responding to demands the Portland Racial Justice Congress aired at the rally.

“The people of Portland want to know that their public servants in the Police Department affirm the lives of black and brown people and are committed to the fair and equitable application of the law,” group spokesman Idman Abdul said in a press release. He added the protest would “show solidarity with victims of state-sanctioned murders at the hands of police nationwide.”

Sauschuck agreed, but within a larger framework.

“It is unfortunate from my standpoint we spend as much time arguing about the language, because to me, it is my context that of course they matter, and why wouldn’t they matter?” Sauschuck said. “From a law enforcement perspective, of course they matter. They certainly matter to us.”

The Portland Racial Justice Congress also demanded Sauschuck allow more citizen participation in “law enforcement oversight committees or policy review,” and equip police with body cameras “in order to promote safety and accountability.”

Sauschuck said he would not attend the rally, had not been approached by activists, and was uncertain if anyone in his department had successfully reached the activists to discuss the rally and demands.

The protest was planned three days after Sauschuck, Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce and other city officials attended a community meeting at Green Memorial AME Zion Church on Sheridan Street, at the invitation of the Rev. Kenneth Lawson, to make a commitment to peace in the community.

The church event was in response the deaths of Philando Castile of Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at the hands of police, as well as the ambush killings of five police officers on duty at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Dallas.

Sauschuck told Tuesday’s gathering the Portland Police Department is committed to “justice for all.”

But he also said, “We need to mirror our community better. I need to have more officers of color … we’re not where we need to be,” and urged members of the community to work with the police to change people’s attitudes.

On Friday, Sauschuck said he had nothing to add to those comments, but conceded the Portland Racial Justice Congress was “asking very pointed questions” about the department.

“We are very transparent; we believe in accountability, and I’ve got nothing to hide,” he said.

While police cruisers all have cameras and the chief reviews video they record, Sauschuck said he does not expect his officers to get body cameras in the near future.

“I want to see where case law lands,” he said, because body cameras could also infringe on civil liberties in instances where police respond to a call in a home and the video could become a public record.

Sauschuck said the Police Citizen Review Subcommittee has records of all misconduct complaints and how they have been handled, which are also available for public review.

The Portland Racial Justice Congress protest was held specifically in response to the killings of Castile and Sterling, which Abdul said were the “most recent victims in an epidemic of extra-judicial police executions of black and brown people.”

Sauschuck said there are disparities in the department contacts with minorities, but also tied those statistics to other factors.

“I would say when I look at a question like that, I dig a little deeper than just race. That is certainly a component in this, but I look at poverty, I look at economy, I look at education, I look at housing. I look at a lot of those other issues that are societal in nature,” he said.

Sauschuck also noted that 42 percent of arrests made in Portland are of people who do not live in the city.

“I’m very leery of making apples to oranges comparisons in that context,” he said.

In a community forum two years ago, Sauschuck said he wanted a department that matched the demographics of the city. Asked what progress was made in hiring a more diverse force, he said he did not have more recent statistics.

The department has hired its first African-born officer since that forum, but Sauschuck said the rate of minority officers may still be around 5 percent, while census statistics place the city’s minority population at 7 percent.

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