Jen Davison

Off MLK Blvd in Northeast Portland is a squat, tan building that houses the NAACP. Last Wednesday, a small group of scared and angry parents, grandparents, siblings, and girlfriends filed into the building to talk about the most recent friction between Portland Police and the city's African American community. Over the past two weeks, police have undertaken an unbridled search for six men who are believed to have attacked two white, off-duty officers who were out celebrating a birthday. Not only has their search been overly aggressive, said attendees, but the police are looking for the wrong men--targeting these six only because they are black and have criminal records in their pasts.

The incident that sparked the controversy occurred on May 26, under the oversized, inflatable, purple octopus that clings to the Greek Cusina downtown. According to police, as Chad Gradwahl and David Michaelson--two off-duty gang enforcement officers--emerged from a late-night birthday celebration, they were attacked. Gradwahl was knocked unconscious and Michaelson was stabbed in the lower back and struck in the head with a beer can.

Police assert that the attackers are Crips gang members and, in the weeks after the incident, have responded with tactics bordering on trench warfare. At the recent NAACP meeting, a chorus of people complained that the police have kicked down doors and fired rounds from pellet guns into their homes--knocking out windows and pockmarking the sides of their Northeast Portland homes.

"They kicked in the door and handcuffed my grandmother face down on the ground before they flashed a search warrant at her and gave the names of the people they were looking for," said Shawna Cunningham, sister of Ronald Cunningham, who was taken into police custody three hours before the raid.

During their search, police also shot out the upper-floor windows on her grandmother's house. Cunningham complained to the police bureau, who in turn have agreed to pay for the damages. During that search, no suspects or evidence was found. Moreover, there have been no official announcements about paying for damages at other homes where similar searches have occurred.

So far, they have arrested three suspects and have arrest warrants for three more, whose family members have been hiding them away like desperados."At this point they are going on past events," said Cunningham, emphasizing that her brother, who is on parole for drug possession, was currently in a rehab program that would clear his criminal record. Another suspect is a college student, one is employed full time, and others are finalizing a rap album and promoting an upcoming release concert, she said.

Based on the allegedly violent history of the suspects, Northeast Precinct commander Derrick Foxworth has defended the tactics in recent press reports. All three men who have been arrested have criminal records and drug convictions. (A court hearing for two of the suspects in custody is scheduled for July 24; bail for the three in custody has been set at an eye-popping $800,000.)

Fearful that the scales of justice are not balanced in Portland, the three remaining suspects are playing a very serious cat-and-mouse game with the police. A father of one of the suspects in hiding says his son is innocent and ready to turn himself in, but he's scared of the police. "The longer we wait, the worse it will be, but we need to make sure we get reputable people to go down to the station with him so he's safe," he said.