IS THERE ANYTHING to learn from stupid violence?
On Friday night, September 2, a group of teens were sitting on the front porch of a vacant house on North Albina and Jessup after a Jefferson High School football game when someone walked by and opened fire, shooting six of the kids aged 13 to 16.
Luckily, none of the victims died.
But it's a scary wake-up call for Portland that the big, wonky policy problems city hall deals with—boring stuff like school funding, neighborhood grants, gun laws—can have a life-and-death impact.
Mayor Sam Adams spent part of Saturday (his birthday, FYI) hosting a quickly organized press conference at the scene of the crime, meeting with neighbors and discussing his recent reworking of the city's gun laws.
Those new gun rules were an attempt to prevent incidents exactly like this one. The rules set a 7 pm curfew for youths convicted of gun crimes and excludes certain offenders from gun violence "hot spots" in North Portland, East Portland, and downtown.
Obviously, those new rules didn't work here. While cracking down on violence from a public safety angle—putting more people in jail, taking stiffer action against illegal guns, having more cops and citizens patrolling shooting-heavy neighborhoods—is one approach, angry kids on the street with guns and grudges is a symptom of Portland's sick social systems. Portland gang violence has increased recently: In 2009, there were 68 violent gang incidents, the most in seven years. Then in 2010, there were 94. So far this year, we've had 65.
People who work with gangs in Portland point out that while it's guns that kill people, it's a whole slew of factors that lead to teenagers shooting teenagers.
Advocates for the city's hotly debated new office of equity packed Portland City Council chambers last week, calling for the creation of the office based on our glaringly unequal demographics: African American kids in Oregon are six times as likely as white kids to have parents in prison and 20 percent less likely to finish high school on time. African Americans are only seven percent of Portland's population, but 45 percent of its homicide victims.
"The best way to stop inevitable tit-for-tat retaliation is to solve this crime," Mayor Adams said on Saturday. He meant that anyone who knows anything about the shooting should talk with police (and they should—their number is 503-832-4357). Unfortunately, solving this crime is going to take a lot more than just shiny new gun laws.