I used to have Portland envy.
Not so much that I wanted to move there -- I've had a Salem address since 1977 -- but Portland seemed like the cool kid to our north, while Salem was decidedly geeky.
Now, though, I'll happily take Salem, even if termed So-Lame, over Portland's increasing dysfunction.
Every night my wife and I watch the Portland late night news on KGW. I used to fast forward through a couple of minutes of crime news, because I don't like the "If it bleeds, it leads" sort of journalism.
Throughout 2021, and especially recently, shootings, vandalism, business break-ins, and such have been consuming much more of the 11 pm Portland news.
Salem has occasional shootings, but nothing like Portland. As of October 10, an Oregonian story, "Under the Gun," spoke of the very high number of murders in Portland this year: 69.
The survival rules posted by gang outreach worker Lionel Irving Jr. on Facebook starkly spell out the danger for people most at risk of dying in Portland’s daunting surge of gun violence this year:
1. Don’t sit in cars kicking it. 2. Get EVERYTHING you need and get to your destination. 3. Keep your eyes and ears open! Watch your surroundings instead of running your mouth. 4. Know who you’re hanging with and what they’re up to. 5. Google numbers, order your food ahead of time, don’t sit in local spots.
Irving’s advice reflects a pervasive unease that has settled over Portland this year as the city continues on a pace to surpass the most violent year in its modern history when 70 people were killed in 1987. So far this year, 69 people have died.
The victims since January range from an infant who allegedly died at the hands of his father to a 77-year-old woman killed in a hit-and-run rampage.
But a stunning pattern of sudden, sometimes indiscriminate shootings sets this wave apart. Guns have accounted for three-quarters of the homicides, according to an analysis by The Oregonian/OregonLive.
Fatal shootings in almost all sections of the city have followed fistfights, social media disputes and drug deals gone bad. People sitting in cars, relaxing after work with friends in a bar, attending house parties or walking in a park have been shot dead.
Forensic analysis of spent bullet casings from crime scenes reveals connections between many of the shootings, pointing to gangs and retaliation as frequent drivers of the gun violence, investigators say.
The calls in Portland to "defund the police" after George Floyd's murder in 2020 now seem quaint, if not dangerously outmoded.
Certainly there's reason to question how wisely the Portland Police Bureau is being managed, but it sure seems like more officers are needed, not fewer, given the rise in violent crime and the inability of the bureau to stop vandalism of businesses both in downtown and elsewhere.
Then there's Portland's out-of-control homeless problem. Recently several people have told me about how shocking it is to see miles upon miles of homeless campers along the freeways in the Portland area.
One person told me that freeway signs now have graffiti. They have a relative who lives in SE Portland. Businesses are regularly vandalized there. The relative is afraid to go to downtown Portland.
A July 2021 opinion piece describes how bad the situation is.
Portland’s housing crisis is now in its sixth year. If it was a child, it would be entering first grade this Fall. With kids, the first six years are marked by enormous growth and advancement. With homelessness, these last six year have seen enormous growth but in the wrong direction.
The growing crisis is getting on the nerves of local leaders. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler says the homelessness crisis has hurt the city’s “brand.” In a recent Metro Council meeting, Councilor Mary Nolan suggested the crisis is a “visibility problem.” In some ways they are correct. But, in others, they are way off base.
The crisis has become unavoidable for residents as well. Wheeler and local officials are correct that homeless camps, cars, and RVs are a blight that harms the region’s reputation. Nearly every neighborhood in Portland has a homeless camp. Most residents are within a five-minute walk of one. It’s more than just the camps and campers, there’s the garbage, the piles of bicycles, and the burnt out hulks of shopping carts. Paraphrasing Mayor Wheeler and Council Nolan, it’s ugly.
But, it’s way more than just ugly. It’s a crisis of public health and safety. And it ought to be treated as such
In 2019, the most recent year for which data is available, 113 people in Multnomah County had died homeless. Many of those deaths could have been prevented if our region didn’t have such a hands off approach.
Multnomah County’s latest count of the homeless population found that two-thirds have some combination of substance use disorder or mental health issues. Unfortunately, these are the people who are most resistant to treatment. Drug users want to use drugs. Many of those with mental illness either can’t get the necessary treatment or don’t want it. Shoveling hundreds of millions of dollars toward so-called wraparound services will do nothing if the people who need them don’t use them.
So far Salem's crime and homeless problems aren't nearly as severe as Portland's. Hopefully we can learn from the mistakes Portland has made.
There's plenty of room for discussing, or arguing, about what those mistakes are.
My view is that Portland has been hampered by an excessive liberal tolerance of destructive street protests. At first those protests garnered a lot of sympathy in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.
But as the months wore on in the summer and fall of 2020, anarchists and other trouble-makers were allowed to engage in both property damage and attacks on police via fireworks, rocks, and other projectiles.
This contributed to a decline in police officer morale. I'm not saying that the Portland Police Bureau didn't deserve some criticism for how they handled the protests, just that the bureau found itself caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
Don't use force with protesters, but protect us from all the shootings and property damage.
Likewise, Mayor Wheeler and other city officials have been unduly passive as homeless camps spread all around Portland. It's easy to imagine that as word got out that Portland was allowing the homeless to do pretty much whatever they wanted, this could have led to more homeless people coming to the area.
One acquaintance told me that he thought Oregon's decriminalization of drugs in November 2020 could have caused our state to be viewed as a welcoming place by homeless people with drug problems. That's just conjecture, of course.
The good news for us here in Salem is that the Police Department seems better equipped to deal with our lesser crime problem, and the City Council is doing the right thing in setting up tiny home managed homeless camps in each of Salem's eight wards.
That won't be enough to do anything other than put a small dent in our homeless population, but it's a step in the right direction -- as was banning camping in city parks following a failed experiment that allowed this.