Not Holding Their Fire 

Neighbors Speak Up Over Gun Proposals

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"THAT'S BULLSHIT. How quaint."

Jerome Young, walking down NE Killingsworth on Monday, November 15, had just been told that the street he was strolling on—and many of the blocks surrounding it—were about to become part of a so-called "gun hot-spot" exclusion zone.

In that zone—sprawling across a largely African-American neighborhood from Interstate to Martin Luther King, and from North Lombard south to Russell—anyone convicted of a gun crime would not be allowed in the area for the duration of their parole or probation. Among a list of exceptions: Living in the area, accessing social services, and MAX trips that merely slice though the area.

That zone, along with one in the far Eastside and another covering Old Town, the Pearl and downtown, will head before the Portland City Council at 3 pm Thursday, November 18. They are part of a package of gun control laws pitched by Mayor Sam Adams in a bid to dial down gang violence, joining plans for a youth curfew, and penalties for carrying loaded guns in public and not reporting lost or stolen guns.

But for Young, it sounds like it might do something else: Enable racial profiling. "Call it what it is," Young says. "Gang violence ends with guns. But fixing the end is not the best way to come up with a solution."

Adams' proposals, first sketched out amid a wave of gang violence this summer, also have raised concerns among some African-American community leaders, including the Albina Ministerial Alliance. Many remember the city's attempts at previous exclusion zones, on drugs and prostitution—zones that wound up disproportionately affecting African-Americans.

In addition, the package of laws has been unrelentingly criticized by gun-rights activists, like the Oregon Firearms Federation, who argue that state law doesn't even permit some of Adams' gun-specific proposals. Legal challenges could be possible.

But the laws are expected to win approval all the same. Even community members who have questioned the exclusion and youth curfew proposals are praising the new penalties for carrying loaded guns in public, for allowing kids to access guns, and for not reporting lost and stolen guns promptly.

On the council, that support will include a vote of confidence from Randy Leonard, one of the council's staunchest opponents of the city's previous exclusion zones.

"Randy is supportive of Mayor Adams' initiative, including the exclusion provision," says Leonard's chief of staff, Ty Kovatch. "He views an exclusion on the basis of carrying an illegal firearm as a wholly different issue than some of the other exclusion issues that have been pursued in the past."

Adams has defended the plan, promising repeatedly that he wouldn't allow it to turn into a tool for racial profiling. The plan, he says, is aimed at convicts, not merely those who have been arrested. And the zones are drawn from an examination of gun slayings, assaults and calls of shots fired.

Accompanying his gun proposals in council is a plan to have a special Multnomah County panel study the exclusion zones every two months, with reports issued every six months. The zones also would be re-examined, and perhaps redrawn, every three years.

He also has stressed the role of the community in helping to tamp down violence. In meetings with gang outreach workers and community leaders he has promised to address longer-term problems. And when he restored a gun-crime task force in the police bureau last month, he also announced the creation of a new government hotline for those youths looking to leave gang life behind.

But while speaking against profiling, Adams also says, "We need to be upfront about the fact that there's a racial aspect of this issue," that often in gang shootings, he says, attackers are targeting members of their own race.

Alicia Hawkins, standing on Albina while waiting for a bus, was among a small handful of residents in the proposed Northeast Portland exclusion zone who agreed that the bans are a good idea.

It's not profiling, she says. It's smart. "That's exactly what they should do," she says. "Because most of the guns are here. I'm all for it. I'm tired of seeing little kids die."

But will it work? A young man who declined to be identified, standing outside Portland Community College, noted that anyone who actually lived in the zone would get a pass. "How are you going to exclude people from where they live?," he asked.

Later, Nick Wright, sitting with a friend at a TriMet stop on Killingsworth, a few blocks west of Albina, said the effort was all about giving police "pretext" to stop young black men and he agreed that it wouldn't be "easily enforced." Given how large the zone is, people would come in anyway.

As he put it: "What if you're favorite store is down here?"

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