by Jon Jones

Early in the morning on Sunday, November 17, shots rang out through Gary Butler's Northeast neighborhood, awakening him again to what sounded like a war zone. He had heard gunshots many times since May, when local 20-somethings started partying regularly at an abandoned home at NE 22nd and Lombard, across from the railroad tracks and opposite Butler's house. According to neighbors, for the last six months, cars had lined the streets starting at around 2:30 on weekends, blocking driveways and making it almost impossible for residents to get a parking spot. By the time the parties really got going, the music was so loud that the bass would rattle the windows of houses across the street. There had been rowdiness, and gunshots were becoming increasingly common.

When the first shots rang out Sunday morning--seven or eight in a row--the 44-year-old Butler grabbed the living room couch, pushed it up against the front door and told his nine-year-old son to lay on the floor while he phoned 911. It was not the first time he had called the police; just days before, there had been four or five gunshots.

"I don't know why they do it," he said. "Maybe they just always shoot their guns off at the end of the night."

As he hung up the phone with police, Butler said he heard another round of gunshots, people shouting, and tires squealing as cars raced away. "I did not look out the window," Butler said. "I was too scared."

Had he looked out the window, he may have seen 25-year-old Demingo Lee Gonzales, who police say was shot multiple times outside the late-night party house. Gonzales was later pronounced dead at Legacy Emanuel.

That fatal shooting was one of three last week, leaving police, investigators, and residents concerned that a recent spate of shootings signals an increase in local gang wars. On Wednesday, November 20, 24-year-old Asia Bell was gunned down on her porch in front of 5706 N Mississippi Avenue. Two other people, Bell's husband and 28-year-old Robert Milhouse, were also shot. Bell and James' children, including a baby, were in the house when the shooting occurred. The previous Friday, police found a 20-year-old man dead in the passenger seat of a Honda Accord parked outside an apartment complex on NE Graham. Police said the man had at least one gunshot wound.

But police would not confirm whether any of the homicides are connected or gang-related, although allegedly, two victims were members of the same gang, the Rolling 60 Crips, and both had been arrested previously on felony charges.

"I don't know why nothing was done," says Butler about the police's lackadaisical response to neighbors' complaints. "All the noise and gambling--and now murders. Hell, why did it have to come to this before something was done?"

Although police said they have received calls and tips regarding the shootings, no names of any suspects have been released. Police did say they are seeing an increase in calls reporting shots fired, as well as an increase in gang related assaults. Police also say they have seized 1,163 guns already this year, up from 829 guns in 2001.

The three homicides bring the city's total number this year to 21. But Sgt. Brain Schmautz said that even with the recent shootings, the city's homicide rate remains relatively low compared to similar urban areas.

"It's true the number of shootings or shots fired calls are up," Schmautz said. "But Portland's homicide rate is relatively low. If you go back to the early '90s, we averaged around 50 [shooting deaths] a year. If you compare our numbers to similar areas in Southern California, a lot of them have homicide rates in the hundreds. Now, I'm not saying our [homicide] rate is okay, but when you compare us with other areas, we do have fewer [homicides] per capita."