I'M NOT gonna lie. It was a slow week in city council.
Only three of the five commissioners were at the regular Wednesday meeting, and only one person from the public showed up to testify about agenda items. Usually at least someone will show up to tell Mayor Sam Adams he's a socialist, or there will be some sort of heartwarming local chorus whose performance the commissioners can politely smile through. Nada.
So it's a good thing that the one person who did show up—Portland Copwatch's Dan Handelman—made it count, criticizing the city on three different items involving the Portland Police Bureau.
One of Handelman's points that stuck out was a comment about race and the mayor's new gun task force. Four years ago, the police nixed their special illegal-gun unit due to budget cuts. According to the city, 42 percent of Portland homicides involve guns and there have been 57 gang-related shootings in town since January of this year.
Last fall, the mayor pushed to reboot the gun task force and establish gun "hot spots" in North Portland, East Portland, and downtown, where people with gun convictions are banned from setting foot. ["Cycle of Violence," News, Oct 14, 2010]
And it seems like the gun task force has been doing a decent job—they've recovered 141 illegal weapons and made 66 arrests. But Handelman pointed out an apparent problem with their numbers: Of the 13 people excluded from the hotspot zones, only three are white.
"Only three out of 13 people? That's 23 percent white arrests in a city that's 75 percent white. I'm not saying that's discriminatory, but I'm saying it does raise a few eyebrows," said Handelman.
It was only a couple years ago that the city got in legal trouble for the racially disparate arrests in its (now deceased) Drug-Free Zones.
But Mayor Adams had a stern reply. "Significant numbers of African American Portlanders are victims of murder by guns in this city. There is a racial aspect to illegal use of guns in this city. It is awful, tragic, and we are trying to intercede."
So basically: I'm not racist, you whiner. African Americans have higher rates of gun violence, so it makes sense that they would have higher rates of arrest for gun violence. Only one of the 13 excluded people is female, but that doesn't make the task force sexist.
But they're definitely statistics to keep an eye on. Hopefully, the city's volunteer gun task force oversight group will keep race in mind. If not, I can recommend a good gadfly.