Harry Hawkins plans to use his appointment to the village’s Police Commission to ensure accountability in the Oregon Police Department, he told the Observer Thursday, Sept. 3.
The commission, which hires and fires Oregon officers, appointed Hawkins on Aug. 25 after the Village Board recommended Hawkins at its Aug. 17 meeting. Hawkins’ term ends in 2025.
Hawkins is the executive vice president of the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership and has a deeper understanding of social groups and organizational behavior, he said. Hawkins is an active member of social justice-focused Facebook group Oregon Allies, and participates on the village’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion.
Hawkins has also appeared at Oregon Area Progressive open mic nights to speak on topics regarding race and his experiences living in a predominantly white community as a Black man.
“If you want to change our police department and we want better relationships with the community, we have some accountability,” Hawkins said.
One way to hold officer’s accountable is factoring bias into background checks. Originally from Atlanta, Hawkins said he saw that simply hiring a more diverse police staff doesn’t solve that problem.
Hawkins said he feels his commission appointment gives him the opportunity to address the issues he spoke about during his last open mic night presentation last winter. Hawkins added that he feels there is a lack of empathy from police officers for members of the Black community and that police often approach Black people with caution and suspicion.
“Both sides want to be seen as human beings,” he added. “If they don’t see me as human, they get to take away my rights. The police officer can walk away.”
Holding officers accountable to their biases is one of the easiest steps to take to solve that problem, Hawkins said.
“The people with the most power, they need to be the one to recognize and respond to that humanity,” he said.