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Friday, July 2, 2010

After Shootings, Life Goes On at New Columbia

Posted by Stefan Kamph on Fri, Jul 2, 2010 at 1:14 PM

newcolumbia.jpg

The flag at City Hall was at half-staff yesterday in memory of Billy Moore, the apparently innocent 17-year-old and Rosemary Anderson High School prom king who was shot outside his home on Monday, June 21.

When I visited the New Columbia housing project in North Portland last week to report on two recent gang-related shootings that happened there, Moore's front porch was covered with flowers and candles. A 16-year-old boy shot Moore while he was walking from the bust stop to his front door. He was coming home from saying his last goodbyes to his mother at OHSU hospital, where she died from complications after a bone marrow transplant.

Moore's funeral took place today at Calvary Christian Center on NE Alberta Street. The family is trying to raise money to cover the costs of funerals for Moore and his mother, and they're taking donations at moorememorialfund.com. Before city council on Wednesday, friends of the family urged citizens to help pay for the funerals. "I'm still in shock and can't believe he's not still around," said Moore's cousin Michelle Bradley.

Meanwhile, day to day life continues at the usually peaceful New Columbia development. The grass is evenly trimmed, the bioswales at the corners are in full bloom, and kids play in the spotlessly clean fountain at McCoy Park. After the jump, more of my conversation last week with the three ladies who run a garbage pick-up/foot patrol around the neighborhood.

Caren Cox (on the right with white hair, in the photo above) has lived at New Columbia since it opened in 2005 to replace the blighted, World War II-era Columbia Villa development. She says her first summer there was memorable. "Flash mobs," she explains. "Kids coordinated with their cell phones, and they'd keep each other updated on where the cops were, and go somewhere else."

Cox says the development has long had two police officers on permanent duty there, but now they've got new people doing a bike patrol, and the residents don't really know then yet. This kind of on-the-street presence is a centerpiece of the city's crime fighting strategy: "We rely on people in the neighborhood telling us what's going on," says Police Chief Mike Reese.

Another shakeup in the Police Bureau has had an effect on crime at New Columbia, at least anecdotally: former Police Chief Rosie Sizer's decision to close North Precinct a year ago. "Everybody says it's different since they closed down the St. Johns precinct," says Cox.

For all the careful thought that the Housing Authority of Portland and other city agencies put into New Columbia—convenient bus stops, a huge park, walkable streets—they never got around to putting in a store, or a major place of employment.

There is a school, where foot patrol member Janis Khorsi's son works as a teacher. "But we don't have a store here," says Khorsi. "We have to drive to Fred Meyer." That's two and a half miles away.

"The opportunity for jobs isn't here," adds Cox. "There's no economic base."

I ask Khorsi if, as a white person in the clear minority among the African-American and Latino residents of New Columbia, she feels like race is a big issue. She says no, though cultural differences are apparent.

"One of the biggest rules is 'don't be a snitch,'" explains Cox. "People are scared of going to the police. So they come to me instead, and I talk to the police." Neighborhood residents seem to trust Cox, who carries around a notepad and waits until she's out of sight of a backyard to jot down a note about an aggressive dog or unkempt yard.

Odd juxtapositions do occur: the ladies round a corner and a tricked-out old hot rod is vibrating with a cosmic bass rattle as a man waits in the passenger seat for his friend. The car's thumping mingles with the tune of an ice cream truck on the next street over.

"Dueling audio," says Janis.

"That's a nice car," remarks Jane Lancaster, the oldest of the group. The car pulls away, and the street is quiet, even serene.

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