There was a stunning editorial in The Oregonian yesterday. Faced with an enormous spike in violent gun crime in Portland, The Oregonian is reversing its earlier enthusiasm for defunding the police and is editorializing against vague plans by the city to give unspecified violence-reduction missions to community groups. Last year, millions of dollars were stripped from Portland’s policing budget, and led to the shutdown of that force’s gun-violence team. Now, Portland averages two homicides a week:
Certainly, restarting a gun violence team at Portland Police that was disbanded just last year, is not an easy step to take. Like many across the country following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Portlanders examined how to root out racism in policing and other institutions. Under the leadership of Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, the council resoundingly voted to cut the Portland Police Bureau by $15 million, disbanding programs including the specialty gun-violence team of officers whose disproportionate stops of Black Portlanders generated deep resentment.
While we supported the move at the time, we – and all Portlanders – should recognize what has also been lost. The gun violence reduction team responded to every shooting, identifying incidents that were connected and helping disrupt potential retaliatory action. Officers had established relationships with many of those considered high-risk for being involved in gun-violence, connecting people with resources in the community as well as communicating with them about ongoing disputes to keep violence down. And as part of their work, they took dozens of guns off the street.
Oh really. The editorial notes that of course black residents have been disproportionately victimized in the recent crime spike. It’s amazing how fast reality intrudes on utopianism.