Portland continues to be an object lesson in how not to deal with violent crime. After a year of nightly protests that often turned into riots or unlawful assemblies, you would think Portland had done all the consciousness-raising that was possible about the value of black lives. But as of Sunday, Portland has now had more homicides this year than it had in all of 2019 and most of the victims have been minorities.
As of Sunday morning, 37 people had died in Portland homicides this year, a more-than-sevenfold increase compared with the first five months of last year, and a stark contrast to Seattle, a larger city, where 11 homicides had been recorded as of late May. So far this year, the victims have disproportionately been people of color.
Last weekend a couple of local activists held a march designed to focus on these deaths and the more than 400 shootings that have taken place so far this year. It was dubbed the March Against Murder, but turnout was disappointing.
They numbered a few hundred compared to the thousands who took a knee on a Portland bridge last June to mark the death of George Floyd under the choking restraints of a Minneapolis policeman.
This May 22 event was called a “March Against Murder,” and some wore T-shirts that declared “Black Lives Matter.” But they were not focused on police killings. They were protesting the lives lost in a huge escalation of gun violence in Oregon’s largest city.
“Everybody wants to burn the city down when the police do something, and by right, I’m not going to tell you that we shouldn’t,” said Herman Greene, a Portland pastor recently elected to the city’s School Board, in a speech at a rally before the march. “But what are you willing to do when we’re doing the something? Where are you at, when we’re killing one another?”…
“This park should be filled. Because if we were talking about a police officer shot a Black man, there wouldn’t be a space for anybody to stand,” Green said.
The park wasn’t filled. Other reports say there were about 200 people on hand. Far fewer than some of the other protests held over the past year.
There’s a not so secret dynamic taking place here that involves BLM and the media. When a police officer (especially a white officer) kills a black person, the local and national media will report the details and activists will mobilize to generate large street protests. And those protests often have an impact on local politicians who respond by trying to meet the protester’s demands. That’s what happened in Portland and how you got city leaders choosing to defund police and get rid of a Gun Violence Reduction Team aimed at reducing shootings.
But when you have a constant, elevated level of shootings in a city like Portland or Baltimore or Chicago, the media isn’t as interested in that crime. The shootings barely make national news and BLM activists don’t mobilize people to march. As a result, the same pressure isn’t applied to local leaders to respond to those crimes. So we have a media-activist collaboration that is set up like a ratchet designed to move things in one direction. That collaboration isn’t designed to go the other direction, not even when changes made at BLM’s behest turn out to be clearly counter-productive.
So you have to give credit to the 200 people who showed up last weekend for the March Against Murder because they are trying to do something about the upswing in violence even if it doesn’t get the same level of attention a police shooting would.
As for defund the police, that appears to be over, even in Portland. Earlier this month the Oregonian did a poll which found most people in Portland think defund the police has gone too far:
Three-fourths of Portland-area residents say they do not want to see policing in the city dip below its current levels, with a plurality supporting an increase in cops, according to a recent poll commissioned by The Oregonian/OregonLive.
Meanwhile, fewer than a quarter of survey participants in Portland — and even less among suburban residents — believe there should be fewer police officers.
People have seen the results of giving BLM activists what they want and the results are not good. Now it’s time for sensible people to stop moving in the direction of reducing the police force and instead start thinking about hiring more police to deal with the upswing in violence. The city is supposed to have just over 1,000 officers and currently has about 900. Mayor Wheeler seems to have moved in that direction lately but a big city doesn’t turn on a dime. It could be a while before we see violent crime on the decline.