Aaron Mesh: Mass Shooting Kills 18-Year-Old Woman Near Downtown Portland Food Carts (Willamette Week)
I'm having a hard time coping with this.
A mass shooting in downtown Portland, shortly before last call on Saturday morning, killed an 18-year-old woman and injured six others near a line of food carts in what police described as “an extremely chaotic scene.”
Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said the killing, along with another fatal shooting four hours later in the Parkrose neighborhood, in deep Northeast Portland, marked the city’s 50th and 51st homicides of the year. Portland saw 55 homicides in 2020, a 26-year record but one on pace to be broken by the end of July.
As of July 6, the city had seen 579 shooting incidents in 2021—more than double the number at that time in 2020. For months, city leaders have bitterly debated whether to increase staffing for a police force that saw its budget trimmed amid racial justice protests last year and is dogged by repeated allegations of excessive force.
It occurred three blocks south of Ankeny Alley, the center of an Old Town nightlife district where dance clubs are once again packed to capacity after pandemic shutdowns. That “entertainment district,” which was once fenced off and surrounded by police squad cars on weekend nights, now sees a sparse police presence, despite what club security services describe as a gang war occurring near the queues for their venues.
Asked by WW why police presence in the Old Town entertainment district was scant, Lovell said those officers were reassigned after COVID shutdowns reduced nightlife, and implied that the bureau was still learning that the clubs were again drawing crowds.
Blair Stenvick: Portland Police Say They're Needed to Prevent Gun Violence. Experts Disagree. (Portland Mercury)
Portland met a dire record last month: With 15 homicides over a 31-day period, July contained the highest number of homicides the city had recorded in a single month for over 30 years. The Portland Police Bureau (PPB) also reported 99 shootings in July—about three times the number of shootings recorded in July 2019.
The jump in shootings and homicides came shortly after Mayor Ted Wheeler disbanded PPB’s Gun Violence Reduction Team (GVRT), a group of officers focused on investigating all instances of gun violence in Portland. The unit had faced scrutiny from Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty and other police reform advocates for years for disproportionately pulling over Black drivers and keeping a list of suspected “criminal gang affiliates” that allowed police to surveil young men of color. Wheeler, who also serves as Portland’s police commissioner, decided to disband the unit in June, amid ongoing mass protests against police brutality and racial injustice in Portland.
Mark Leymon, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Portland State University (PSU), told the Mercury that there’s “absolutely no evidence” that the recent disbanding of GVRT contributed to July’s numbers. When asked what the likely cause was, Leymon cautioned it’s “too early to tell” whether July’s numbers qualify as a sustained spike in violent crime.But, he said, “The single most predictive measure of criminal activity is the economy.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused record unemployment numbers in Oregon—and as Brian Renauer, the director of PSU’s Criminal Justice Policy Research Institute, pointed out, economic anxiety was “already there” for Portlanders who never recovered from the 2008 Great Recession.
“It was already impacting certain areas and geographies of the city for a number of years,” Renauer said. “There are places and families that have never recovered from a prior economic crisis.”
Heaped on top of economic anxiety is the stress and trauma caused by simply living through an unprecedented pandemic, Leymon said. Leymon used an analogy of a glass of water, explaining that each person has “an emotional glass that can handle a certain amount of emotion.” Many people’s glass is already nearly full because of the pandemic, meaning it doesn’t take much for them to tip over and resort to violence.
“Our emotional stress glass has water in it up to a certain base, so it’s very easy to spill over,” he said. “The spillover is when criminal activity happens… People are more likely to snap or make poor decisions when they’re stressed.”
In addition to citing the dissolution of the GVRT, PPB officials have blamed the protests against police brutality as contributing to the spike in shootings. At a recent press conference, Lovell called the protests a “drain on resources” that kept police from focusing on crime prevention and response.
Leymon calls that reasoning “disingenuous.”
“They like to say that every day—that police are out there preventing crime,” he said. “But police don’t prevent crime, especially in Portland. Portland’s policing system is a responsive system…They’re not really doing any proactive work, they’re just there in the neighborhood. The most they can do is be a deterrent, and deterrents just aren’t very effective.”
However, Leymon said there may be an indirect link between protests and an increase in violent crime.
“You could argue that the current protests are societal stress, so that increases criminal activity,” he said. “There’s probably some truth to that. But... people of color and other marginalized communities have been feeling that stress for [hundreds of years]. It isn’t like the stress those people feel hasn’t been existing prior to the protests. It’s just, suddenly, a bunch of white people have noticed.”