City of Bullets

I must say, I never thought I'd see the day when out-of-control murder was the dominant news story in Portland. But so it has been this past weekend.

Three people were shot and killed in about 16 hours on Saturday. The first homicide took place during the day in a house on North Commercial just north of Fremont. My friends recently sold their house on that block. The previous weekend, the groovy Mississippi Avenue street fair had been held four blocks to the west of the killing scene.

Then at bar-closing-time on Saturday night, two people were shot and killed in the parking lot of the infamous methadone clinic at Southeast 26th and Belmont. At that hour, the action was almost certainly not coming from the methadone juice bar, which I believes cranks up at about 5 a.m. on weekdays, but instead from the equally infamous Vern Tavern next door. I used to live a block and a half from there. We picketed outside the methadone joint for several months after the county sneaked it into the neighborhood over one Christmas in the late '90s, but in those days, long-time neighbors were equally leery of the Vern crowd.

These three killings punctuated a week in which two disturbing reports came out about trends in the world of Portland homicide. First we learned that the police are "clearing" a lower percentage of those crimes than ever. 

In 2021, amidst a record number of killings, detectives cleared just 48% of the city’s homicides, leaving 47 of the city’s 90 homicides unsolved, according to PPB’s latest data. The figure continues a dramatic decline in the bureau’s homicide clearance rates. In 2017, detectives exceeded the national average by 20 percentage points, solving around 81% of the city’s 27 killings. By 2020, the agency was just a few points above the national average, clearing around 59% of that year’s 54 homicides.

Then, from a consultant's report that our mayor, Dud Wheeler, had commissioned, we found out more about who's doing all the shooting and killing, which are breaking all records in our once-fair city.

The O's crime and cop reporter, Maxine Bernstein, had a surprisingly blunt summary, here, of the report that the mayor released. She wrote:

[W]hen filtered for killings from gun violence, the data showed more than half of the fatal shootings in that period [January 2019 through June 2021] involved gang or group members...

Black teen and adult men continued to be disproportionately affected by nonfatal shootings and homicides, representing 47% of victims and suspects, while making up only 6% of the city’s population, the report said.

That compares to white people, who represented 37% of victims and suspects, while making up 75% of the city’s population, according to the report....

While overall about 0.1% of Portland’s population was involved in a homicide or nonfatal shooting, about 18% of Portland’s population estimated to be in a gang or group were involved in a homicide or nonfatal shooting, the report said.... 

Those most involved in the violence are men ages 18 to 34 who are well-known to the criminal justice system, have been charged with felonies and were or are currently on probation, involved in a gang and previously have been shot or connected to a recent shooting or homicide victim.

These statistics highlight the political problem that has brought the city to the current state of crisis. The shootings are most often happening among gang members, nearly half of them Black. But the Portland police force, which is whiter than snow and has harbored some crazy racists in its ranks over the years, can't be trusted to deal fairly with Blacks. When statistics show they're stopping more Black men than anybody else, a huge outcry goes up. The next thing you know, the word "gang" is taboo, and the cops have to dance around having a homicide squad that targets the most obvious groups of suspects. 

The Portland police no longer have a "gang enforcement team." That was disbanded nearly five years ago, and a "focused intervention team" got back out on the streets only six months ago. I hope the people who applauded so loudly in 2017 are reading what the consultant has said, and will stay still and cut the cops at least a small modicum of slack until the town gets back to some semblance of civilization.

And to our goofball state legislators, who would be perfectly happy to cut the prison population in half just for the sake of doing so, no matter how bad the violent crime situation gets, somebody needs to ask: Is the morgue a better place than the slammer?

UPDATE, an hour later: Oh, and I forgot this one, Friday evening at Southeast 124th and Powell.


  1. We need some more park rangers, that much is apparent. Hopefully with people with nicknames such as “Earth Momma” and “Dancing Bear.”


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