This documentary covers nearly a half century of police violence on and oppression of Portland's mentally ill, poor, working class, people of color, and activists. A lot of this violence was lethal. All who were killed were unarmed.
Arresting Power, which is mostly straightforward and has a chilling opening, situates this violence in a historical and structural context. Structurally, the police are not about catching criminals but criminalizing those in the lower orders. We live in a society that protects the obscene wealth of the rich and reproduces an artificial scarcity of basic needs and capital. To keep this unbalanced structure in place, the police must use force.
Portland also has a deep history of racist policies. It is the center of a state that once had laws against black settlements. Oregon was supposed to be a white utopia. This history did not end with the end of these laws, but was instead rearticulated into the structure of contemporary policing. Like Seattle, Portland is a city that is at once progressive and regressive. We can have gay mayors and Bull Connors working for the same government.