NAACP representatives held a press conference outside the Benton County Courthouse in downtown Corvallis on Tuesday morning to denounce the treatment of an African-American bicyclist by police and call on the community to stand up against racism.
Speaking to a cluster of TV news cameras and a crowd of about 50 onlookers, Corvallis/Albany chapter President Angel Harris denounced the treatment of Oregon State University student Genesis Hansen.
Hansen was stopped by a state trooper on Oct. 13 for allegedly riding her bike on the wrong side of the street. The trooper initially attempted to give Hansen a traffic citation, but after she refused to show her identification she was forcibly arrested on charges of resisting arrest and interfering with a peace officer.
Reading from an NAACP press release issued on Monday, Harris said, “Under Oregon state law, it is not required of any citizen to show identification, which Ms. Hansen was exercising such right. As the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, we view this civil rights violation by state and local law enforcement as another example of racial inequity and excessive use of force imposed o communities of color by law enforcement. We are very concerned how a potential citation can result in a young woman being physically abused by police officers, and ultimately charged for the offenses committed against her. This behavior is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated in our society.”
The press release goes on to demand that all charges against Hansen be withdrawn and that the Oregon State Police and Corvallis Police Department formally apologize to her and the community.
Harris reminded the crowd that black people across America have had similar experiences at the hands of police, but many of them did not live to tell their stories.
“We will continue to stand and work together to protect the right to just live,” she said.
E.D. Mondaine, a regional vice president with the NAACP, echoed that theme.
“Oct. 13, 2019, was a very fortunate day for Ms. Genesis Hansen,” he said.
“Her fate was not that of Sandy Bland. She is able to stand and tell the story.”
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Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman, was found hanged in her Texas jail cell in 2015, three days after being pulled over for a minor traffic infraction and ultimately arrested for assaulting a police officer.
“Racism exists in our society,” Mondaine said, noting that “we see it demonstrated from the highest office in the land.”
In some parts of the country, he said, African-Americans are treated as criminals for engaging in everyday activities such as “walking while black.”
“Now Corvallis has made biking while black an egregious thing in America,” he said. “You’re not going to stand for that, are you, Corvallis?”
He asked the audience to join the NAACP in working to end racism.
“We can stand with the citizens of Corvallis to make a difference in this fight against racism,” he said. “Who’s going with me?”
Harris took issue with a headline in Tuesday’s Gazette-Times that read “NAACP says arrest of bicyclist was racist,” insisting that it misrepresented the contents of the press release.
“We are here because there is a systemic problem and we want to see the system changed,” she said.
“To call someone a racist — which we did not do — dumbs down everything we fight for.”
NAACP representatives declined to answer questions from reporters after the press conference.
Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson has said previously that, after reviewing video footage of the arrest, he has decided not to prosecute Hansen on the police charges of interfering with a peace officer and resisting arrest.
Asked on Tuesday about the status of its internal review into the incident and whether the agency intended to apologize, a spokesperson for the Oregon State Police said, "We have no further comment at this time."