Four fatal shootings in Portland this week bring the total for the year to 39 homicides — putting the city on a trajectory to have its most deadly spate of violence in six years and prompting an outcry from community leaders who work directly with victims and families affected by the gunfire.
So far this year, 173 people have been struck by gunfire in 595 shootings, up from 97 people struck in 327 shootings at this time a year ago. The numbers include those killed by gunshots, police said.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, months of protest confrontations and a tense presidential campaign, members of the city’s communities of color hit hardest by the violence demanded Friday that all Portland residents and city officials take to heart the continued trauma their loved ones face.
“When will the data be enough for us to pay attention?” asked Nike Greene, director of Portland’s Office of Youth Violence Prevention. “There is an urgency and I won’t tone it down. We must do more. … Our streets are painted with our families’ blood.”
“We have not been silent,” she added. “What it is, is we haven’t been heard.”
Portland police suspect two back-to-back killings in the same motor home complex at Northeast 111th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard within 14 hours of each other on Thursday – one at 5:31 a.m. and the other at 7:45 p.m. – resulted from retaliatory gang-related violence. The Thursday killings followed a barrage of more than 50 shots fired Wednesday night in North Portland, which struck at least four cars and one home.
Police suspect that many of the gunshots are resulting from ongoing feuds between Blood or Hoover gang members and those involved in the Rolling 60s or Kerby Blocc Crips. Some also have resulted from drug-related disputes.
So far this year, just over half of the city’s shooting victims and suspects are Black, according to the Mayor’s Office. That’s far above the 8% of Portland’s nearly 655,000 residents who identify as Black alone or in combination with another race.
City officials and police said they’re working to find a more effective way to stem the violence, including adding staff to the violence prevention office.
After the Gun Violence Reduction Team was disbanded, Police Chief Chuck Lovell moved five officers and one sergeant from patrol to help assault detectives, but those detectives aren’t routinely responding to non-fatal shootings, particularly if a victim is uncooperative, police said. Patrol officers are responding to all the shootings and collecting any evidence. Spent bullet casings are still being collected and entered into a national database to determine if they can be connected to other shootings or guns seized.
The 39 people killed in Portland so far this year represents an increase compared to the previous six years, when 36 people died in homicides in 2019, 33 in 2018, 27 in 2017, 20 in 2016, 34 in 2015 and 26 in 2014.
Hiag Brown, coordinator of the city’s Trauma Impacted Family Team, said he’s received 85 referrals so far this year to intervene and support people who are at highest risk of gang or other violence.
Most of the referrals came before June from the Police Bureau’s former Gun Violence Reduction Team.
“They were a huge part of this referral system,” Brown said, “and I think we wouldn’t be where we’re at today if we had them back.”
The City Council disbanded the unit in June as commissioners voted to remove $15 million from the Police Bureau’s budget amid social justice protests in the wake of the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck despite his pleas that he couldn’t breathe.
Mayor Ted Wheeler, who serves as police commissioner, recently requested an additional $223,756 for two more full-time positions to the city’s Office of Youth Violence Prevention, now staffed by two full-time employees, the director and a policy manager.
“Portland is currently experiencing unprecedented demands when it comes to gun violence,” the budget request says.
“We believe we need to invest more in intervention and prevention if we’re going to get in front of this problem,” said James Middaugh, the mayor’s spokesman.
One new position will serve in an administrative, communications role as a spokesperson for the office as well as its community liaison. The staff member will manage bimonthly meetings of the Community Peace Collaborative, formerly known as the city’s Gang Violence Task Force, and the regular meetings of local clergy.
The second new position will serve as a program coordinator for the office’s grant-funded prevention programs, managing its 18 street-level outreach workers and the Healing Hurt People program that has outreach workers connect with victims and their families in hospitals immediately after a shooting. The staff member also would maintain relationships with other local advocacy groups, such as Moms Demand Action.
The work of the youth violence prevention office in serving Black and other communities of color “is crucial to increasing equity in the city,” the budget request says.
Roy Moore, the office’s community outreach coordinator, praised the work of those who have been trying to connect with victims of shootings or those trying to steer people who are on probation away from the gang life and further violence. Moore frequently visits victims, just hours after they arrive at a hospital for treatment after a shooting.
Those at the highest risk of violence benefit from relationships with people who have walked in their shoes, from those with a “little bit of that gangster, a little bit of that street in them,” said Moore, a former gang member.
Deondre Fair, who leads a county-supported program that provides mentorship to men on probation or supervision under the county’s gang probation and parole unit, agreed.
“It’s my belief that lived experience is key – people want to believe that you believe in them,” said Fair, known as “Choo.” ” I come from the same background as most of the guys I work with.”
— Maxine Bernstein
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