MONMOUTH — Most people who have spoken at events in Monmouth and Independence about the racial prejudices they have experienced have done so on the record. Some say they have submitted their experiences anonymously out of fear of retaliation.
The details of two incidents read at the July 21 Monmouth City Council meeting have not yet been verified by the Itemizer-Observer, so the full accounts are not included.
Rebecca Salinas-Oliveros read a story from a community member about recent experiences of her 14-year-old daughter.
“Today we would like to provide a story that demonstrates that our residents of color live in fear from the harassment they experience from other Monmouth residents as well as the police,” Salinas-Oliveros said. “We hope the story continues to help the council understand the critical need to make changes in our city so that everyone can feel safe.”
The stories Salinas-Oliveros read are from a woman who lives in Monmouth.
“On July 7, at approximately (noon), my African-American daughter was walking with a friend on Talmadge Road, when a man in a lifted red truck, came to a complete stop to call her the n-word,” she said. “I attempted to post a PSA on a community Facebook forum. My post was declined because I was said to be stirring the pot. I was then told that it couldn’t be posted because of possible retaliation of people driving red trucks.”
The woman pointed out the irony that the admins for the Facebook group were more concerned about people driving red trucks than that of “a child with brown skin” and was told she was stirring the pot.
The woman said a few days later her daughter and her daughter’s friend were pulled over by police because they had reports of someone lying in the street. The woman said the officer followed the children down the road in his police car.
Monmouth Police Chief Darrell Tallan said that incident happened in Independence, not Monmouth, and his officers did not respond. The Independence Police Department does have a record of a similar call. Their narrative said the officer talked to people but not that he followed them.
“Due to these events, I limit my daughter’s activities with her friends,” Salinas-Oliveros said, reading from the woman’s statement. “I don’t feel safe allowing her to walk with friends. A child should be able to walk in town in the middle of the day without harassment. A mother should feel as though she has the support of her community when harassment of her child occurs. I know the history of Polk County. I know the history of Oregon. This is the year 2020. These things should not be tolerated.”
Christine McDowell read the account of a man who said his encounter with Monmouth Police officers changed the course of his life.
This account also was read at the July 8 listening session which was held at Riverview Park in Independence.
Tallan said he spoke with the person who read the letter at that event to try to get more information about the incident. He said on Sunday night, he received an email with an approximate date range of 2002 -2005.
“The following story was given to our group so we could inform the council about an individual’s experience with two Monmouth police officers,” McDowell said. “We hope that this story encourages the city council to act so all our residents feel valued in our community and not fearful. As a dark-skinned Mexican male, I do not feel the police department has my best interest in mind, nor do I trust them.”
The man said he has had several experiences with the department, and gave details about an incident he said happened during his senior year of high school.
He was excited about a job opportunity that he was near completing the process for because it provided benefits and he comes from a family whose members work in the fields or in construction.
“Me and my three Mexican guy friends were walking to the store in Independence to get some soda and chips to eat while we played FIFA video games,” McDowell said, reading from his account. “Once we bought our stuff and were leaving the store, there were two Monmouth cops that were pulling into the parking lot. The cops turned on their lights and knowing we had not done anything, assumed that they were not pulling us over. But the cops got out of the car and came over to talk to us.”
According to the account being read, he said they asked what they were doing and they told them.
“The cops said they knew we were lying and had been drinking alcohol,” McDowell read. “We told them we hadn’t and were just drinking soda and showed them our bags.”
According to the account being read, the officers had the young men lined up and sitting on the curb, and questioned them one at a time.
In all, the encounter took more than 40 minutes, according to what was read at city council and at the listening session.
There were two officers, according to the testimony, but the man could only remember the last name of one of them. In the time since that incident was alleged to have happened there have been at least three officers or reserve officers with that name according to public records and Tallan.
“This encounter was humiliating as community members all stared as they drove or walked past looking at the lights and us all sitting there,” McDowell read. “The image of three young Mexican men in trouble by the police, adding to the stereotypes and racism that I have to deal with every day.”
According to the account that was read, the young man’s prospective employer saw him while he was there and that cost him the job opportunity.
“When I came in to finalize the paperwork, they said they had decided to go in another direction as more information had come up,” McDowell read. “I have a clean record and I know the information was them seeing me in trouble with the law. After that, I went to work in the fields. Long, hard days with no benefits because of the officers’ lack of awareness, racial profiling and refusal to listen to truth. It changed my future.”
The Itemizer-Observer is still seeking to verify this incident and will seek public records when more detailed information becomes available.