WAY BACK in 2010, you'll recall—coming off a particularly ugly summer of gang-related bullets and blood—then-Mayor Sam Adams celebrated a modest win in the fight for order, after persuading his city council colleagues to back a handful of bold, new local gun laws.
Adams created a youth curfew for juvenile gun convicts. He added new penalties for carrying loaded weapons in public. He clamped down on people who make it too easy for their kids to get hold of their guns, or who fail to report a stolen or missing gun.
He also, most controversially, set the city up with its first crime exclusion zones in years—hotspots in North Portland, downtown, and outer Southeast where cops could summarily boot out (provided those charges actually lead to a conviction) people suspected of gun crimes.
That Adams managed it as easily as he did, given the city's racially fraught history with exclusion zones, was a testament to the violence that summer. African American leaders openly noted that previous hotspots, for drugs and prostitution, had disproportionately targeted young black men and women, but they also said they just couldn't abide more shootings.
It also helped that Adams made some promises. He'd change the rules, this time, so that exclusions would follow convictions instead of living solely on a cop's animus. Adams also promised that someone would pay specific attention to who was being banned and why. Reports would be issued. And corrective action, if required, would be taken.
Adams, of course, is no longer mayor. But his exclusion zones live on. And so does his promise of oversight. But barely.
For the third year in a row, an oversight committee has filed an official report looking at the racial makeup of Portland gun convicts subjected to exclusion orders. And, for the third year in a row, the panel has found that an overwhelming majority of those men and women are African American: 83 percent this year, up slightly from 2012. Portland's black population, of course, is just 6 percent.
(For the record, this isn't an unfamiliar trend line for the Portland Police Bureau: traffic and pedestrian stops, police searches, targeted neighborhood enforcement actions, and a more recent set of drug exclusion zones all turn up similar concerns.)
But curiously, instead of expressing some kind of alarm over those numbers—for what ought to be the third year in a row—the gun committee takes pains to offer something else. An apology and a dismissal.
In language practically copied and pasted from last year's report, the report writes off those numbers as a surface-level problem. It goes on to argue that the apparent bias in the numbers is actually a good thing.
Because "gun violence disproportionately impacts African Americans in our community and nation-wide," the report says, "the committee views hotspot exclusions as having the potential of preventing violence in our African American community."
The report—signed by Mayor Charlie Hales—heads before Portland City Council on Wednesday, September 25. Maybe someone will make the same point in public, too.