Voter calls police on black politician campaigning door-to-door in Oregon

'When people do things like this, it can be dangerous for people like me,' Janelle Bynum says 

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
@MythiliSk
Thursday 05 July 2018 16:10
comments
Oregon State Representative Janelle Bynum takes a picture with Officer Campbell of the Clackamas County Sheriff's office after a voter called police to report the candidate for campaigning door-to-door
Oregon State Representative Janelle Bynum takes a picture with Officer Campbell of the Clackamas County Sheriff's office after a voter called police to report the candidate for campaigning door-to-door

A black female politician in Oregon said one of her constituents called the police on her as she was campaigning door-to-door.

Janelle Bynum, a state Representative, said in a Facebook post that a woman living in Clackamas County, Oregon, told the sheriff’s office that Ms Bynum was suspicious for “spending a lot of time typing on my cell phone" after visiting each house.

The Democratic legislator was taking notes on conversations she had with voters as she runs for re-election this coming November when a sheriff’s deputy approached her.

According to Ms Bynum’s account to the Oregon Live news outlet, Officer Campbell asked if she was selling anything after which she introduced herself as a member of the State Legislature.

She told the outlet that in her years of campaigning she had knocked on perhaps 70,000 doors and this was the first time someone had called the police.

"It was just bizarre. It boils down to people not knowing their neighbours and people having a sense of fear in their neighbourhoods, which is kind of my job to help eradicate. But at the end of the day, it's important for people to feel like they can talk to each other to help minimise misunderstandings,” she said.

She told the officer: "When people do things like this, it can be dangerous for people like me."

In the Facebook post, Ms Bynum wrote that the officer “responded professionally” and even posted a smiling picture of the two of them as she carried campaign flyers.

Ms Bynum also wrote that she had asked the officer if she could meet the constituent who had called the police to discuss the matter with her.

While the woman was not available, Ms Bynum said “we talked and she did apologise. #letsbebetterneighbors” and told The Independent that she hopes to return to the neighbourhood to keep campaigning and talk to voters about their concerns.

"My post was partially about reinforcing a community expectation on professionalism in law enforcement. I wanted to highlight an interaction that went well, even though it stung to have my campaigning mistaken for potential criminal behaviour," Ms Bynum said.

She went public with the incident to highlight the need for "people having a chance to talk with one another to iron out differences or concerns, especially as a way to eliminate police intervention".

She wanted to use her position as a politician to "shift the conversation about how we interact with one another" in an era of heightened political and racial tensions.

"We all know that we're not in a society that is perfect, and we have wounds that still need to heal, but at the end of the day, I want to know my kids can walk down the street without fear," Ms Bynum had told Oregon Live.

The sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the incident.

The race of the woman who called the police has not been confirmed but there has been a spate of similar occurrences across the country.

A white woman recently called police to report an African-American family holding a barbecue in a public park, a 12-year-old boy who was accidentally mowing the wrong lawn, and neighbours called authorities after they thought a black man - and former staffer of President Barack Obama - was breaking into his flat as he was just moving in to his new home.

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