Jose Mejia was a Mexican immigrant to the United States that was detained and beaten by the Portland, Oregon police in April, 2001, He was sent to a mental hospital, where he was shot and killed by the Portland police several days later while having a violent episode.

The series of events that led to his death begin when Mejia, a laboroer with little ability to speak English boarded a Trimet bus. He was 20 cents low on fare, and when the driver asked him for the extra two dimes, Mejia did not respond. The driver called two police officers, who, after trying to speak with Mejia, who did not respond, considered him violent and subdued him.

He was brought to a private mental hospital for treatment. Several days later, he escaped the room he was placed in, and threatened hospital patients and staff with a metal bar he had ripped off a door. Police were called, and after trying to subdue Mejia with non-lethal force, they fired on him with live ammunition, killing him.

After this happened, more details of the case came out, that seemed to put the police in an even more unfavorable light. First off, it was discovered that Mejia was epileptic, and that he was probably in the middle of an absence seizure when he had his initial incident on the Trimet bus. An absence seizure can be fairly hard to detect to an untrained person, and may look like a heavily drugged person. However, witnesses report that the police may have used unneccesary force when first subduing Mejia. It was thought possible that Mejia received a concussion that excaberated his already foggy mental state. Over the next few days, Mejia received inadequate or no translation. Thus, although Mejia had no previous history of violent behavior, he may have been extremely confused, and thus lashed out. He was, after all, an epileptic with possible brain damage from a beating who was being confined in a mental hospital for reasons he didn't understand.

To say that this angered the city's Latino community would be something of an understatement. It also intensified calls in Portland's activist community for more police oversight, something that many would say Portland desperately needs. However, Portland Mayor Vera Katz and Police Chief Mark Kroeker dismissed all complaints, saying that police had "followed procedures". This is not a totally unfair statement, since it is hard for us to understand how threatened the officers felt at the time they acted in both cases. One of the few casualties of the incident (apart from Mejia himself) was the hospital he was shot in, which was later sold and closed, after general inadequacies were discovered.

Within the past week, the incident again came into headlines, as Mark Kroeker awarded the officers involved in the shooting a medal, during a ceremony in which all officers who had been involved in lethal shootings were awarded a medal. (the reasoning behind this is that officers who had killed people were more likely to leave the force unless they were specifically commended for it---if you want to call that reasoning). Giving officers a medal for killing a man in what was best a tragedy could be seen as tasteless and insensitive at best, and at worst, an open encouragement for the police to treat mental patients as target practice.

Much of this is a tragedy in the true meaning, something that could not be prevented. However, it would seem that the callousness and cluelessness of Katz and Kroeker is a political problem that should be dealt with as such.


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