Commissioner Jesse Beason shares personal impact of Reimagining Justice in Cully

December 5, 2023

Commissioner Jesse Beason’s anecdote preceded the Board’s vote to appropriate just over $305,700 of a $2 million award from the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance to the first year of the Reimagining Justice in Cully project.

On Dec. 21, 1995, a new manager of an Albertsons grocery store caught a future Multnomah County official shoplifting.

“I stole a baby bottle and some Christmas labels,” admitted Commissioner Jesse Beason, recounting the story during the Nov. 30 board meeting.

Had the theft occurred a few months before, when the store was managed by a person Beason had known since he was 3, the outcome might have been different. But that manager was shot and killed on the job just six months earlier, and the new manager wasn’t familiar with Beason. The police were called and he was arrested.

“Thank God and thank my parents that course corrected very quickly to make sure that I did not become a statistic,” he said.

Beason’s anecdote preceded the Board’s vote to appropriate just over $305,700 of a $2 million award from the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance to the first year of the Reimagining Justice in Cully project. The pilot project is designed to empower the residents of the Cully neighborhood in Northeast Portland to craft a localized alternative to existing law enforcement-focused models for low-level crimes.

“I believe that this project is designed to prevent Black and Brown kids like me from being directed in the wrong way,” said Beason. “The Cully neighborhood is such a dynamic community with a long history of organizing for the betterment of the community without displacement.”

Beason highlighted the community driven nature of Reimagining Justice Cully, pointing out that community members are often best-positioned to identify what will make them feel safe.  

“This project, at its core, has the chance for residents to determine just that, with the County supporting the work and not leading it,” Beason said. “We’ll be working with community-based organizations, local businesses, and residents in Cully to craft new solutions for solving public safety challenges in the area. It’s a type of model that allows us to lean into our values of equity and community involvement.”  

Reimagining Justice in Cully is the result of a partnership between Multnomah County’s Local Public Safety Coordinating Council (LPSCC), the office of former Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA), Cully neighborhood social service providers and residents, the City of Portland, and the Portland Police Bureau. 

Beason, who is serving as an interim commissioner after Commissioner Jayapal resigned last month, said he is “honored to help carry on in my small way the work of my predecessor… to bring this to fruition.”

Starting in 2020, LPSCC and many public safety and community stakeholders undertook a massive, three-year visioning process, said Abbey Stamp, executive director of the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council told the board. 

“The goal was to create an audacious yet meaningful North Star for not only the criminal justice system, but its sister systems of housing, medical, and behavioral health,” she said. The project engaged over 130 community members, including law enforcement officers, emergency room doctors, community elders, survivors of crime, activists, elected leaders, people who have lived experience in the criminal and behavioral health system, and people experiencing homelessness and living outside. 

The resulting vision, combined with up-to-date social science and research of best practices, seeks to establish “a just and safe county for all, particularly those most impacted by crime, poverty and other social challenges,” said Stamp.

The funds from this grant will support the implementation of some of the components of that visioning project in the neighborhood. The values of Reimagining Justice in Cully include: 

  • Centering the experiences and voices of Cully residents. 
  • Uplifting success of place-based solutions. 
  • Government and agencies support, not direct, the project. 
  • Solutions are not predetermined, but collaborative.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance outlined additional goals for the use of the funding, including increasing trust between the law enforcement officers that patrol the Cully neighborhood and the people who live there. 

When it comes to the development and implementation of a non-law enforcement intervention for low-level crime, “we don’t know quite yet what that will be because it will be community driven,” explained Stamp. “But the first year will rely heavily on planning led by a project manager from Native American Youth and Family Center; years two and three will be implementation.” 

Social Impact, a consulting firm specializing in program effectiveness, will serve as the project’s research partner, providing qualitative and quantitative analysis. The group is currently involved in the City of Portland Community Safety Division’s work on gun violence intervention. 

Stamp thanked the the City for serving as an exceptional partner in the work and read a statement from Director of Community Safety Stephanie Howard, which read in part: 

“I want to be sure the Board knows this effort has the mayor’s strong support building relationships between the community and the police bureau is a priority for the Mayor and Chief Day. This effort represents a terrific opportunity to do just that, all through a community-led process. We have seen great results with similar efforts around the city and I strongly believe this approach is the best path toward sustainable solutions for a safe and thriving community. 

Sky Waters, the Community Development Manager for Native American Youth and Family Center, said the organization has called Cully home since 2006, when the organization first moved to a 10-acre campus off Cully Boulevard.

“Since then, we’ve expanded our presence and invested in the neighborhood with three affordable housing developments, with over 160 units. We manage 24,000 square feet of commercial real estate and will soon open our 42nd Avenue office this month,” said Waters.

Through the Cully Tax Increment Finance (TIF) District four-year process plan, NAYA has seen the impacts community-led, neighborhood-wide initiatives can create. 

“We’re excited to take our learnings and apply that to public safety,” Waters said. “The process will increase the livability of the neighborhood, where all residents can live, work and shop here.”

Nabil Zaghloul, director of Bienestar de la Familia, a bicultural and bilingual Multnomah County social service hub that has operated in the Cully neighborhood for over 26 years, extended his heartfelt gratitude for the project. Bienestar is a part of the County’s Youth and Family Services Division.

“It’s exciting to witness a project that's really dedicated to addressing these specific safety challenges within the Cully neighborhood,” Zaghloul said. “A program that is dedicated to building trust. A project that is committed to creating a comprehensive, collaborative approach involving different stakeholders and holding community voices and community engagement at its core.

The program will not only address these challenges but advance racial equity and family access to this project. These are strategies that are tailored to address the specific dynamics of the Cully neighborhood. We have brilliant minds and passionate people and community members who are capable of making this vision a reality.” 

Chair Jessica Vega Pederson thanked all of the partners involved.

“I appreciate the letter from the mayor and the support of this project. I think this is an incredible opportunity to really model letting the community lead,” she said.  

“This is not government and agencies directing this work. This is community directing the work, determining what success looks like and determining what they want to be seeing, and we are helping to enable that. And I think that’s a really beautiful thing.”