Off the rails

The tragedy of drug-infested Dawson Park, on the border between North and Northeast Portland across the street from Emanuel Hospital, is well known. The Weed told the story here last fall. 

On North Stanton Street, an open-air drug market sells cocaine to suburban buyers during the day while people smoke crack in the vestibule of a neighboring apartment complex long into the night. Women ask for money from strangers on the corner and, according to a police report, sell sex acts for 20s at the bus stop.

If you’re looking for a social ill that plagues Portland in 2022, you’ll find it here.

For the better part of two years, Dawson Park has made unwanted headlines—never more so than in recent weeks, when Legacy Emanuel Hospital threatened to move its nearby children’s clinic after one of its employees was assaulted. Bullet holes have penetrated the church rectory next door.

These are not isolated incidents of gunfire. The park lies within a zone that city officials have identified in internal documents as the seventh-most likely place to get shot in Portland. Three people have been killed here in two years.

As far as I can tell driving through that neck of the woods now and then (I don't dally), nothing's changed since that story was published. 

So why don't the authorities do something about it? Well, it's all about race. The Portland police, saddled with a history of racism, know that any busts they make in the park and its surroundings will stir up the many years' worth of hard feelings that have festered between them and the Black community. Most of the park-goers are Black.

What makes the scene more painful is that it is occurring at a park cherished by Black Portlanders, some of whom travel 9 miles by TriMet bus each day simply to play dominoes in a place that feels like home.

And so between their general policy of refusing to do any difficult work over the last three years, and their fear of being called out for racism, the cops do nothing.

Neighbors, both Black and white, say their calls for help to the city have for years gone unanswered....

James Posey, a longtime Black leader in Portland, lives on North Stanton Street. He has for 40 years.

He says Dawson Park “ultimately represents how the city has neglected the Black community.” First, by kicking out Black families. And second, by abandoning the park as it’s beset by crime.

“If you get cops off the record, they’ll say, ‘We’re not going to go over there and police that area because we’re going to be told we’re harassing the Black community,’” Posey says. “And that’s a damn shame.”

The reason I'm rehashing all this is because a reader recently sent me what he says is an email message he uncovered from early this summer that shows that the police are talking about cleaning up the park, but first they want written assurances from the city's Black power structure that it will be okay with them.

The email message, which looks authentic enough to my untrained eye, purports to be from a city "crime prevention coordinator" – a civilian of color serving as some sort of liaison with the police bureau. It was addressed to an "alternative response and prevention unit manager" in the city's Community Safety Division and to another bureaucrat who's a "community investment team supervisor." The two addressees are white. Copied on the message were two men who work in something called the "Safe Blocks" program; one, who was mentioned in the text of the message, is Black.

Here's what the email purportedly said:

From: Tompkins, Mary <> 

Sent: Wednesday, June 21, 2023 10:16:13 AM

To: Freeman, Lisa <Lisa.>; Pullen, Jenni <Jenni.> 

Cc: Hamilton, Bobby <Bobby.>; Culberson, Andrew <>

Subject: PPB policing Dawson Park

Hello Lisa and Jenni,

It has been brought to our attention, Bobby and I, that PPB is asking us for permission to "police" Dawson Park and the surrounding Eliot community, by asking the Urban League and the NACCP, for permission to be in the area.

They want us to provide them with a "letter" from both organizations, stating that it is ok for them to police the area. I am reaching out to the both of you to let you both know that we are not comfortable with this process of notification for PPB. We are focused on bringing the community together and safety to Dawson Park through positive interventions, culturally specific services, resource fairs, POP! parties, etc.,

Anne Hill, organized a meeting today with the Mayor's office, PB, and SBP, to discuss timelines and notification. We are not comfortable attending this meeting until we get further notice from one of you on how you would like us to proceed.

Thank you,


Mary L. Tompkins, MS
Safe Blocks Program Coordinator,
North Portland Community Investment Team
Office of Management and Finance

Assuming this document is genuine, it speaks volumes about the dysfunction in law enforcement in Portland, particularly where Black people are concerned.  It's crazy that the police are asking for cover-your-butt letters from private nonprofits before they do their jobs. And it's equally crazy that the city bureaucrats think they're going to break up one of the city's most dangerous and notorious drug and prostitution dens with resource fairs and parties. Craziest of all is that the police has lost the citizenry's trust to this degree, and is too arrogant and incompetent to regain even a little of it.

I think people of all races from all walks of life are appalled at what's going on in Dawson Park. If only we had leadership with the smarts and the energy to put a stop to it.

One thing I never noticed before looking into this email was how many civilians the city has on the payroll dinking around doing "crime prevention." I'm sure some of them are performing valuable services, but honestly, I'm equally certain that many of these positions are a waste of money.


  1. Portland’s dysfunction isn’t limited to the cops. They’re just an easy target.

  2. The Gordon knot came into my mind when you posted the debacle of Dawson Park.

  3. Portland's dysfunction is it citizenry. We need a new type of copper!

  4. This is akin (but quite the stretch) of asking the leader of the aryan nations his permission to arrest local skinheads who are suspected of hate crimes. It is quite obvious what the non-profit answer will be. That is their whole keep the white guilt grift going.

    It is also beyond obvious that this neighborhood has gone through a massive demographic change. It is not like the cops will just be going through there and throwing every black person they see into their police car. I know it might sound strange......but there are new things called surveillance and undercover work.

    But hey, if said non-profit wants to be ultimately responsible for the results (or lack thereof) let them do their thing. At least I will know where to score my crack.

  5. It’s hard for me to respect people that hide their political agenda behind “non-profit” organizations.

  6. Let's all pretend that demographics that show concentrations of crime amongst specific groups aren't real. Much easier to believe the myths, cause facts are racist.


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