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Meeting Captain Chris Uehara

Me and PPB Captain Chris Uehara at
Youth Services Division Headquarters.

On Friday I met Captain Chris Uehara of the Portland Police Bureau’s Youth Services Division. I won’t even attempt to recap why this meeting occurred; but suffice it to say, we didn’t come together for the best of reasons. That being said, we’re both glad that our paths have finally crossed.

Over the past week, I have been trying to understand why and how I made the mistake of publishing that story. Part of figuring that out has been to ask people that were either involved in the story (like Uehara) or who criticized me for it, how it made them feel. Capt. Uehara shared that he was a bit taken aback by the story because he felt the racial overtones surrounding it. We talked about that, and a lot more, during our conversation on Friday.

Capt. Uehara was born and raised in Hawaii (which he remembers as a huge melting pot of cultures and races where he got along with everyone). When he left the island and moved to Oregon, he was shocked when he was the subject of racial slurs and bigotry while in out in public. Those experiences have stayed with him and they formed the lens through which he read my story and its comments. As for my role in the story, Chris has been very understanding. “We’re good!” he kept saying, with his warm and engaging smile. I could tell he didn’t want me to beat myself up about it. I told him I was grateful for his understanding, but that I’m still working through it.

After we discussed the story, Capt. Uehara was eager to share the great work he’s been doing in our community. As Captain of the Youth Services Division, he and his officers handle a myriad of important issues — from runaways to school safety, domestic violence, and much more. (And as it turns out, Capt. Uehara is the officer who brokered the relationship with that down-and-out bike thief who wrote an apology letter to his victim back in October 2012).

On July 13th, Capt. Uehara and the Youth Services Division are organizing a “Bike Safety Fiesta” in the Cully neighborhood. He said was driving through the area recently and saw several young kids biking around with no helmets on. “I thought, I’m not going to wait until one of those kids gets hit.” Now he’s planning a huge event to get more helmets and bike safety education into the neighborhood, spread awareness of bicycling, and build community.

As I listened to Capt. Uehara get so excited about his work, I had a strange mix of feelings. Given what a stellar person he is, I was even more disappointed in myself for publishing that story. Yet at the same time, I felt optimistic. He inspired me to re-assess my role and my work in the community — which is something I’d been thinking about even before the events of this past week.

I don’t remember everything we said during our conversation (I wasn’t there to report on it), but I do recall Capt. Uehara saying that he and I getting together was a “sign” and was “meant to be.” I don’t usually believe in that sort of thing, and I’m pretty sure he was referring to how I could help him spread the word about his Bike Fiesta event; but in some ways maybe he’s right.

One thing Capt. Uehara and I have in common is the belief that the best way to build a great city is to first build a strong community. That has always been my goal with BikePortland, but it’s taken the incredibly humbling and revealing experience of this past week — and meeting someone like Capt. Uehara — to open my eyes and re-focus myself on how best to achieve it.

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