"I WAS HERE 14 years ago, and it's still happening," said Perlia Bell, flanked by a small group of women who have lost loved ones to gang violence, on a sunny Thursday morning in North Portland's Peninsula Park.
Bell's daughter, Asia, was gunned down at her nearby home in 2002. Now, Bell was speaking alongside members of her anti-violence organization, Enough Is Enough, about the Portland of 2016. "It's real personal to me that we're still here and it's still happening."
It is still happening, perhaps more than at any other time in recent history. With at least 47 attacks and 15 people shot so far this year, the city's on pace to surpass 2015's record-setting violence attributed to Portland gangs. And authorities believe it will only get worse as the weather warms and the cycle of retaliation for these shootings continues.
"We've already recovered more than 400 bullet casings on Portland streets, in Portland neighborhoods, from this violence," Mayor Charlie Hales said at last week's press conference in the park. "One homicide in this cycle of gang violence spawns much more activity."
"The epidemic proportions of violence, and injury, and homicide attempts are overwhelming," chimed in Assistant Police Chief Kevin Modica, who warned against accepting this as the "new normal."
Hales, Modica, and a host of other Portland-area political and law enforcement heavy-hitters—Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill, US Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams, Representative Lew Frederick, and others—had gathered to give tough-on-crime soundbites for news cameras and present a unified government front in the battle against gang and gun violence.
Charlie Mae and Robert Bradford, 82 and 89, sat next to the podium the whole time. The couple have lived near the park for 40 years. Someone sprayed their house with bullets the weekend before.
"The bullet holes are still in our walls," Charlie Mae told the crowd. "We live in fear now; we want to feel safe in our home again. We want everyone to feel safe again. Please stop the shooting."
As with a stream of similar press conferences in recent years, not everybody was listening.
Portland police reported two separate suspected gang-related shooting incidents just a day later. On the night of Friday, April 8, occupants of two cars were reportedly shooting at each other around NE MLK and Jessup. About three hours later, a man and woman were shot in a parking lot off NE 82nd.
Like this past weekend's shootings, most incidents that police attribute to gangs this year have happened in clusters in North and Northeast Portland. Both police brass and the district attorney's office suggest it's a small number of folks responsible.
"We have a lot of guns in the hands of mostly young offenders," said Kirsten Snowden, a Multnomah County chief deputy district attorney, at a recent meeting of law enforcement officials aimed at stemming the violence. "Within that group, we have a much smaller group that are actually pulling the trigger, and they're doing it repeatedly."
Snowden said at the time that recent rounds of shootings can be linked to fallout from "a couple of gang-related homicides that have really sparked tensions and flare-ups in the community."
She tells the Mercury she was specifically referring to the November 2013 murder of Durieul Harris outside of the Fontaine Bleau Nightclub, and the brutal unsolved 2014 murder of Ervaeua Herring at her East Portland apartment.
Harris was affiliated with the Woodlawn Park Bloods, Snowden says. Xavier Bolden, who's affiliated with a gang called the Hoovers, is awaiting trial for Harris' murder.
"It's my understanding that prior to the shooting, there were a lot of Woodlawn associates hanging out with Hoovers," she says. "They were on good terms, these two groups. And because of this, it really divided them."
The murder of Herring, who was pregnant and had a one-year-old son, also created tension. Snowden says Herring wasn't personally connected to any gangs, but had relatives in the Woodlawn Park Bloods.
Snowden says it's more than idle speculation tying the recent violence to these killings. They are "recurring themes" among folks who find themselves in police custody.
Deputy District Attorney Eric Zimmerman agrees that the shootings stem from a relatively small number of people.
"One week a person is the victim, the next week they're the ones doing the shooting, and it's back-and-forth between the small [groups]," he said at that recent anti-gang meeting. But Zimmerman noted: "Just because we know who [did the shootings], it doesn't mean we have enough to go forward and put a case on them."
In the face of all this, police say they're switching up tactics.
At the press conference in the park last week, Assistant Chief Modica announced the bureau is targeting suspected gang crime with "more focused investigative efforts."
"So what does this mean?" asked Modica. "It means that we're not going to cast a wide net, we are not going to be haphazard or careless about who we pursue for the crime."
Snowden tells the Mercury that the police bureau "is trying a new strategy that might be more focused on some of the folks they think are the most prolific shooters, and we're working with the bureau."
She also said that for gun arrests, the district attorney's office has been working more closely with the US Attorney's Office to determine which cases the feds can take (most guns are manufactured out of state, and most gun crimes can be tried on the federal level). When a case can work in either court, they'll file it in whichever has the harshest potential penalties.
"For these folks who are really dangerous," Snowden said, "we want to make sure we're having that conversation."
At the press conference Thursday, US Attorney Williams spoke to this collaboration, and offered a warning.
"We are going to target, from the federal standpoint, the worst of the worst, the most violent individuals," Williams said. "My message to those individuals out in the community pulling the trigger: When your report comes to our desk, it's too late to help you, because you're going to prison."