A Portland woman with a deep connection to Ferguson, MO, has been watching the events following the shooting of an unarmed teenager unfolding in her hometown from afar.
Sonji Young grew up just a stone's throw from the street where Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer. She said the young man's death has intensified deep-seated tensions between the community and police.
"The challenge is many officers may not have the experience of working with folks who they serve in the communities they serve," said Young.
Young, who moved to Portland from St. Louis County three years ago, is now a member of the Portland Human Rights Commission. She said the police reaction to the community's unrest has only made things worse, and said Portland can learn a lesson from the whole thing.
"I see our police as being young leaders, leaders who can really bring about a change and understanding of relationship building, policy making and safety, not to point guns at the faces of the communities they serve," said Young. "How are we building relationships by hiding behind riot gear?"
Young said recent changes in police tactics in Ferguson have potential to improve the situation, particularly a State Police captain and Ferguson native being tasked by the governor to take charge of the police action in the area. Cpt. Ronald Johnson made it a point to walk with demonstrators in the street, a stark contrast to the police blockades and riot gear that preceded his arrival, a tactic Young thinks could make a difference.
"To know that you are willing to walk alongside me tells me a lot about the person that you are," said Young.
The Portland Human Rights Commission will take part in a peaceful demonstration at Lownsdale Square in downtown Portland at 1 p.m. Saturday in solidarity with the Ferguson community. Demonstrators will be calling for the demilitarization of police forces across the country.
Copyright 2014 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.