Nearly two years after Mayor Sam Adams first announced plans for a package of local gun ordinances meant to ease gang shootings—including a controversial plan to exclude gun criminals from shooting hotspots—an oversight committee has released a report that, at first blush, appears to confirm some of the worst fears raised by civil liberties advocates.
So far, of 42 people convicted or charged with a gun crime, and then given an exclusion, 36 are African-American. In other words, 75 percent of everyone told they can't come back to one of the three zones, in downtown, along Interstate 5 in North Portland, and outer Southeast near Gresham, is black. Portland's black population is just about 6 percent.
The report comes with a pair of pie charts—and a quick statement about what those graphs might appear to be saying about racial bias.
African-American leaders, while applauding efforts to reduce gun violence, had long warned that their community might be disproportionately affected by the exclusions. The North Portland hotspot, the largest of the three, straddles neighborhoods that—while maybe no longer majority black—still have more African Americans than many other parts of the city.
But after acknowledging that first impression, the report goes on to reject it. In fact, it claims the hotspot exclusions are actually making black neighborhoods safer.
Why? The committee lays out a couple of reasons. First, is that the hotspot exclusions, for now, are being issued and enforced only by gang-enforcement officers. That means the universe of affected citizens, ostensibly, is limited to gang members. (Later on,
According to the report, African-Americans make up the largest plurality of gang members in Portland. Second, the report makes the point that, broken down along ethnic lines, black gang members who get violent are most likely to use guns. Hence, according to that logic, the finding that the hotspots aren't disproportionately affecting African-Americans.
(Another potential barometer for racial bias—how many people, and which ones, are accused of violating exclusions—is a moot point. The city says no one has been charged with violating an exclusion order, either because they aren't or because, since only gang officers are on the job right now, no one's been caught doing it.)
To its credit, the report does raise at least one significant problem with the current hotspot program. Because individual cops sign off on exclusions (which take effect only after a conviction), there's more room for what the report graciously calls "racial discretion."
The report suggests moving to the same model that governs the mayor's Illegal Drug Impact Areas: Having the DA's office and the county courts apply exclusions as a condition of parole/probation.
Other recommendations include creating mini-hotspots within the North Portland hotspot; expanding the Southeast hotspot across Portland's border with Gresham; making the police bureau's gang team as diverse as the city's gang population; doing more to remind gun owners that they can be fined if they fail to write down a serial number and lose a gun; and, wishfully, creating a voluntary gun registry.
The report's going to be discussed at Portland City Council this Wednesday.