- Erik Ursin
A meeting of the city's Gang Violence Task Force this morning took a testy turn, when an outreach worker affiliated with a Portland nonprofit complained he'd been treated "like a piece of shit" by police while working.
The outreach worker, who gave his name only as Choo-Choo (the Oregonian has reported in the past his name is Deandre Fair), said he'd recently been sent out to the Terri Lee apartments near E Burnside and 160th. The complex is one of several in the area police say have become of hotbed of criminal activity, partially as a result of increased gang activity in the area.
Choo-Choo, who works with Volunteers of America Oregon's Community Partners Reinvestment Project, said cops approached him and the person he'd been sent to speak with, rudely insisting on patting them down.
"I guess you're allowed whenever you see someone to search them," he said at the meeting, attended by a number of high-ranking police officials. "We have to respect you guys, but there's no respect for us."
It was an uncharacteristic turn—the task force meetings are usually focused on the city's trouble spots and positive community work. It was also a counterpoint to something I'd noticed riding around with Portland's Gang Enforcement Team. As we reported this week, the team's afternoon patrol squad spends a lot of its time pulling over black males in Portland's high-crime zones, almost always hauling them out of their cars to be patted down. The interactions I witnessed on several ride-alongs turned up no weapons or drugs, and were surprisingly civil. Choo-Choo's experience showed a side I'd more expected to see—people angry at being hassled and searched.
Police officials at the meeting asked Choo-Choo to stick around afterward but he declined, instead walking out after he'd made the complaint. He was followed out into the parking lot by East Precinct Lieutenant Vince Elmore and Captain Pat Walsh of the Gang Enforcement Team.
"They tried to take me to jail just for advocating for a client," Choo-Choo said to Elmore.
Elmore explained cops had been targeting the young man Choo-Choo was mentoring, and that they hadn't realized he was a social worker. Officers didn't arrest anyone at the time, but returned later to take the guy into custody. Elmore wouldn't say what the charge was, or give the person's name.
"It wasn't about you," Elmore told Choo-Choo. "We've addressed the issue, and I've talked to the officers about this interaction."
He added: "You gotta remember that officers don't like being called racist."
"I said 'profiling,'" Choo-Choo replied.
The meeting also revealed an uptick in violence in recent weeks. The city's gang team responded to nine attacks in all of July, but has seen seven so far this month. Two of those, cops said, were shootings of Crips members.
"That could potentially be a hot topic," Officer Russ Corno told the group. "Things are still pretty active out there—pretty hot."
Walsh, the head of the gang team, pleaded with collected social workers and clergy members to speak with young people to think about their actions. In recent days, he said, an officer had a "replica gun" pointed at him, and cops searching a young man had to stop him from going for an actual gun he was concealing.
"It's almost like they don't know there's consequences that could be awful," Walsh told the group. "I'm just worried about it. We're so close to tragedy."
Portland's seen 65 gang attacks since January 1, down from the same point in 2012 but still on pace to reach 100 for the year.