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Monday, September 23, 2013

Report Dismisses Racial Disparity in Gun Exclusions, Yet Argues for Fixes All the Same

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Mon, Sep 23, 2013 at 11:59 AM

An oversight committee's report (pdf) on Portland gun-crime exclusions has found—just like it did last year—that just because the overwhelming majority of people affected by the policy are African American, that doesn't mean African Americans are receiving disparate treatment.

The numbers, however, are clear. Some 83 percent of convicted gun criminals who've been ordered away from one of three so-called "illegal gun impact zones" in in Portland—in outer Southeast, in North Portland, and downtown—are African American. A report issued last summer put the number at 75 percent. Portland's black population, meanwhile, is just 6 percent.

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African American community leaders, as we've reported, were wary of potential discrimination even as they endorsed what they hoped might be one more tool against gun violence. But in a nearly verbatim reuse of the language it employed in last year's report, the committee again goes on to dismiss the numbers and what it argues is a mere surface-level reading of the statistics.

First and foremost, it is important to consider that gun violence disproportionately impacts African Americans in our community and nation-wide. The Committee views hotspot exclusions as having the potential of preventing violence in our African American community.

The report also has urged Portland City Council to dramatically expand the North Portland zone, which straddles several neighborhoods that make up the historic heart of Portland's black community. The zone already is large, bound by N Lombard, Interstate Avenue, MLK, and Russell. The committee wants the move the eastern boundary out to NE 33rd. The expansion would come despite significant drops in gun crimes not just within the three zones, but citywide.

All the same, the committee seems concerned enough racial impacts to repeat a call from last year's report that apparently went nowhere:

Removing the power to issue exclusions from cops and essentially giving it to the courts, building it into the probation process. That's the model the city currently uses for its drug impact zones, which also seem to disproportionately affect minorities, but to a lesser degree.

The committee also sounds a hopeful note about a decision, as of this summer, to broaden the pool of officers trained to hand out exclusions. Previously, the only cops handing out exclusions were members of the police bureau's gang enforcement team. And those cops have extensive dealings with African Americans, who make up more than half of known gang members in Portland.

As of this summer, all officers have been empowered to issue exclusions. The committee says it has the "expectation that hotspot exclusion demographics will more closely match gun crime demographics in
our city."

So far, just one person has been found in violation of an exclusion order—but the report, in stilted language, said it could not "determine the cause of this."

The gun zones were among several local gun control ordinances pushed in late 2010, in the wake of several high-profile gang shootings, by then-Mayor Sam Adams.

The whole thing goes to the council on Wednesday, and Mayor Charlie Hales' office has written that it supports the oversight committee's recommendations. The oversight committee is mostly made up of law enforcement and criminal justice experts.

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