Willy Week: Gang officers are profiling in Portland

Karol Collymore

This morning I was reading the Willamette Week and my stomach turned in knots and not for the reasons that you think.  Apparently, the Gang Enforcement Team at Portland's Police Bureau have mandated stopping Blacks on the streets without cause:

Corno and Mahuna are part of “Operation Cool Down,” an effort by City Hall to halt escalating violence between the Crips and Bloods after a slaying in a North Portland church Dec. 12. Their new mission is straightforward: to contact the kind of people involved in the shootings and make a police presence felt. Corno is frank about who they’re targeting: young black men.

Ok, that paragraph disturbed me but this description put fear in me:

Driving down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard at 7 pm, Corno and Mahuna spot a 15-year-old black boy in a hoodie at the intersection of North Morgan Street. They’ve already passed two groups of white people without stopping. But a week ago, police had busted three gang members carrying guns two blocks away.

Corno and Mahuna pull over, get out of the car and ask the boy what he’s doing. He says he was on his way to a bus stop and is shocked when Mahuna asks him to put his hands behind his head.

“What did I do?” he says.

Mahuna pats him down for weapons, checks his ID, and asks him to show his forearms and stomach for gang tattoos. With no guns or tats, they send him on his way after a brief chat about the latest violence.

I've heard many a Black mother who have Black sons say that they teach their boys how to behave around police officers.  These boys are instructed to do what they are told, don't talk back, don't move to fast and don't ask questions.  I've said myself that I'm scared to have a child for fear it will be a son and he will have to deal with this.  Why you ask?  We want our sons to come home alive. 

What if this 15 year old refused because he had done nothing wrong?  Would we be reading about yet another situation similar to what happened earlier this year in Oakland? 

This isn't an exception, this is reality.  We still exist in a reactionary place - figuratively speaking - where we assign responsibility to an entire race of people for the actions of a few.  Every White man that parks in front of a government building isn't profiled or called a terrorist even though one blew up a federal building.  White, reclusive men living in shacks aren't hassled even though one was the Unabomber. But dare to be a Black kid walking to catch a bus and you'll be frisked, lectured and warned to behave or else the cops will be back.

A couple of days ago, Larry King said on his show that his son, "wants to be Black."  You know, I'm going to guess if he reads this, he'll think twice.  

Read the rest at Willamette Week.

Comments

  • mp97303 (unverified)
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    Corno is frank about who they’re targeting: young black men.

    “Statistics don’t lie,” he says. “You gotta go where the numbers go.”

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    Identical front page debate in London today.

    The force started to increase the use of one of the most controversial police tactics last May to try to curb the knife attacks that have led to more teenage deaths ... A disproportionate amount of stops affect black and Asian youths, a fact causing community concern. Recent figures show a black man under 18 is 5.3 times more likely to be stopped than a white youth, and an Asian youth is 1.6 times more likely to be the subject of a "section 60" than a white youth of a similar age.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    Oh, on the BART thing... I've also said to beware public transit employees that you encounter on a holiday or anytime people wouldn't want to be working. That and Muni and BART are licensed to kill. Sad, but hardly comes as a surprise. That's why people like me whinge about them as if they'd already done stuff like that, because it seems only a matter of time.

    I think Katrina proved that about community relations. Personally, I think civil defense funds should be available for community race relations work.

  • RM (unverified)
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    I have sometimes wondered about this.....

    Lets say the racial/cultural makeup of men in a particular area is 70% white, 20% black, and 10% hispanic. A look at the local crime stats for that area reveals 50% of the identified suspects involved in violent crimes were either black or hispanic for the previous year, and the other 50% of the identified suspects were white.

    Does it reveal a profiling trend If 50% of all stops by police in this area are of individuals who are black or hispanic men even though white men make up 70% of the population?

  • SCB (unverified)
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    And some people still deny the existance of "White privilege".

    We may have an African-American President, but the police are still pretty much white.

    Wrong is wrong. If I lived in Portland, I'd be marching.

  • (Show?)

    In my home town, the JP actually told the police to pull over any black person driving through town. Why? Because they don't belong there. Nevermind that our city was on one of the highways between Houston and Galveston.Our town was something like 90% white, with the rest made almost completely of Hispanics. The neighboring city was almost half black. People in Hitchock would go out of their way to drive to Houston in order to avoid going through our town.

    Anytime you use race as a reason to stop and question someone, it is racial profiling. And in my opinion it is wrong.

    At least when I used to get pulled over at midnight in my '88 Honda Accord I had the option to buy a different car to stop being pulled over. It's not so easy to change your color.

  • Privileged (unverified)
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    I'm white but my 14 year old son is black and when I saw this article I felt immediate fear -- and also anger about the mindlessness of profiling by race. It's a tactic that has been shown to be ineffective and increases hostility between communities of color and police. We don't live in North or Northeast Portland, so he is not likely to be pulled over, but last week he did experience racial abuse. He stumbled into a corner yard while running to the bus from school, and a high schooler who lives there called him the N.. word. Now he wants to know if Obama's election will bring more racism to the fore.

  • (Show?)

    My friend put it the best last night: "To say this is disappointing is an understatement. The relationship young people have with police and others in authority carries into adulthood. Behaviors like these are demoralizing and do little to foster healthy images of self or of those paid to protect all of us. Sad."

    We tell our children they can be anything they want. We tell them the place we live is free and fair. But it is not for some of us, it's simply not. Until we have some sort of community uproar or outrage, this racist behavior will continue.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    People seldom consider the flip-side; how public security is compromised because there's a group that know, with just as much certainty, that they will not be pulled over. I can't remember the last time I rode in a late model car with an attractive, white woman, that she didn't break out a drink or joint or something, based on "I won't get stopped". And if she does, as one Louisiana state trooper told me, "the tears do work".

    Jenni's point brings back bad memories, but I think it points up that maybe this is about class and social identity more than race. I used to have a bunch of cars in Texas, and my wife would grill me before we went out house shopping about which car we were going to take. They don't just tell them as a matter of policy to pull over Blacks. They add Mexicans, dumpy cars, or, really anyone you don't recognize. If it's 2am, it could be anybody. It's easy to see that the rule includes every black person, all the time, but I think that's an artifact.

    The police seem bound to a simplistic good guy/bad guy kind of mentality, where they are out to combat anything they see as an anti-enforcement attitude. That's largely minority youth, in their eyes, but the lack of understanding seems cultural, not purely racial, though, they're obviously oblique factors. Plenty of Black, Asian and women officers are the ones shooting the minority youth. I don't know how you can expect anything else, when you use a military service model for officer service and don't even require a college education. Most of what they are doing is problem solving. They can't solve probs well enough to matriculate; you shouldn't be giving them a big gun and telling them they are justified in blowing anyone away anytime they feel threatened. I've had it with the attitude. On at least 4 occasions, I've actually had police officers ask me, "what is your relationship with Jesus" (not all in PDX). Anymore I just ask back, "what was the highest grade you completed"? Wipes the schmarmy self-justified expression off the face pretty quick. Definitely only something to say if you're 100% innocent and have some time to burn.

    In Portland the cops are more pro-business owner than anti anything, imo. Anyone accused by a business owner is instantly assumed to be in the wrong. That is all about class and governance, not race. It's a fetish. Property takes on the rights and qualities of humans and humans take on the qualities of material objects. It's standard capitalistic commodity fetishism. Of course, the policy can certainly create some race relation problems, because it looks rotten to the core, but everyone needs to realize that we are all equally threatened by this mentality. People forget that it wasn't so long ago that local police thought that trolling inner SE with infrared cameras at night was reasonable profiling as well and, lacking high court intervention, would be doing so as we speak.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
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    Karol, the stated purpose is, "Operation Cool Down,” an effort by City Hall to halt escalating violence between the Crips and Bloods after a slaying in a North Portland church Dec. 12.

    Now IF you can correlate the number of white males between the ages of 12 and 28 who are also a member of either the Bloods or the Crips, perhaps you might have a salient point. Without any empirical date indicating that white males are in the group(s) causing the problems, your concerns are baseless. Racial profiling for the ake of harassing and intimidating is wrong. When one or more racial group is disproportinately singled out for attention because THEY are the dmographic involved in the vioence as in this case, then there can be no legitimate complaint.

  • (Show?)

    I'm sorry, Kurt. I can't get on board with that. If gang members are mostly Black, fine, I'll buy that. But to target every young Black man is racist. Dressing in baggy jeans and a hoodie isn't a sign of being in a gang; its a sign of fashion. I dare anyone to find a white kid the same age who isn't dressed similarly. Neither of them would have a weapon on them stronger than a cell phone.

    My concerns have a serious base: fear and self-loathing. Until you have been eyed, questioned, harrassed, or intimidated strictly because of race, you have no idea what it does to a person's self esteem. If my car is too nice, it's a problem. If I'm walking through a nice neighborhood after dark, it's a problem. If I talk to loud in a store, it's a problem. This is a real issue. When someone targets you because of your race, your life is never the same. The way you think of yourself is never the same.

    We are not "THEY" we are human beings who all do not do the same thing. People of color are as individual as white people and the fact that I have to continue to explain that in this allegedly progressive place makes me ill.

  • The Libertarian Guy (unverified)
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    If Cityhall would take the time to look at why people join gangs and then do something about it the issue might get solved.

    It just might help if the city had better schools in north and northeast Portland and better transportation services connecting those areas to jobs.

    Let me point out that the Rivergate Industrial Park is within five miles of that area where there are a number of businesses. If the transportation between the two areas was better then maybe some of the people without jobs might find ones, but today the transportation services between those two areas can at best be described as poor. No transportation will result in no jobs thus higher crime rates and the social problems that go with crime and poverty. Does the government care. In my opinion the answer is no!

    Just two alternatives that might put a dent in the problem.

    Maybe this should be discussed in a public forum. Let me know when and where.

    TLG

  • (Show?)

    I'm all for profiling people who need jobs to get the education they need in order to live secure and happy lives. I'm all for profiling people who need to stay in school at least until they get a high school diploma. I'm all for profiling people to make sure they get the training they need after high school in order to get gainful employment or start their own business. I'm also all for profiling people who might be able to use a micro loan to start a business (given the perverse economic situation we now have). And I'm distinctly in favor of profiling gun bearers to make sure they don't carry them on our streets.

  • (Show?)

    There's no denying there is racism among individuals, including some in police work. But regarding this profiling--which I agree with Karol is misguided, demeaning and provocative--I think it's a question of appropriate tactics, not intentional discrimination. (If you're on the receiving end of course it amounts to the same thing.)

    Long-term intervention to change the more basic problems of economics, education and discrimination in the community would be a better approach, but that doesn't do much right here, right now, today for police officers and a police force in general, which is frustrated about its lack of ability to decrease the violence.

    I'm pretty sure the more proven and respectful methods, such as hiring more gang intervention staff to work outside the police force, have suffered from cut backs going back to our last recession. Those efforts would be better to revive than the policy of random stops, which only serves to turn communities against the police in the long run.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)
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    Great piece, Karol. I've seen young people followed at the mall and now stopped on MLK. For wearing a hoodie.

    That said, I must say that growing up white on the streets of northside Chicago in the 1960's, I was lectured by my father to treat all cops like kings, especially during a stop, or else. Message? Cops are dangerous.

    Look at the mentally-ill white dude, Chasse, who was killed, on camera, at the hands of Portland police. For taking a leak in the bushes outside some rich guy's condo in the Pearl and not high-fiving the cops when they rolled by.

    It's a tough job, but do cops really have to bully and intimidate law-abiding citizens, especially minorities, to keep the peace?

    Good stuff, Karol, keep writing.

  • mp97303 (unverified)
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    From the WW article

    The fact it’s mainly black men they’re approaching is not a problem, Corno says. They also frisk two Latino men that night. If the mission were suppressing meth in Southeast Portland, he says, they’d target a different set of people altogether.(my emphasis)

    “Profiling—to me, I’m not scared of that word,” Corno says. “If you’re profiling people based just on their race, that is an issue. We’re profiling people based on crime.”

  • joel dan walls (unverified)
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    As a matter of curiosity only, how commonly does the Gang Enforcement Team deal with non-black gangs?

    As an oblique response to Karol's last comment, there's a certain somewhat trendy shop in downtown Portland where my spouse likes to browse, but which I (a middle-aged white male) now refuse to enter after being conspicuously tailed by shop personnel on several occasions. OK, this was about some misplaced fear of shoplifting on their part, but I have always wondered what exactly I was doing to provoke the reaction I got. I won't name the shop, but let's just say it has something to do with a nursery-rhyme character :-p Thing is, of course, I can choose not to enter this shop; a young black man cannot choose not to be black.

  • mp97303 (unverified)
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    From WW article

    Isaac Nobles is drinking Milwaukee’s Best Ice with three friends outside an apartment building on North Haight Street. Just around the corner on North Killingsworth Street, there’d been shots fired the night before.

    As Mahuna pats him down, Nobles, 23, says it’s the second time that day they’ve been questioned by police.

    “We’re prisoners in our own neighborhood,” he says. “I understand what you’re trying to do, but I’m getting tired of the interviews.”

    His friend, L.B. Anderson, notes Barack Obama just became president.

    “And we’re getting harassed,” he says. “What is going on in this world?”

    Corno asks Nobles why he’s wearing a blue Chicago Cubs cap—a sign of the Crips—after a shooting just happened. Nobles denies he’s involved in gangs and accuses Corno of stereotyping. Another friend accuses Corno and Mahuna of denying young blacks jobs.

    After five minutes of conversation, the cops resolve the tension. They leave after shaking hands, with no arrests or citations. In the end, Nobles even admits he comes from a Crip family.

  • (Show?)

    I should say the item about the car was here in Gresham, not in Texas. It had to do with profiling cars most likely to be stolen. But I was lucky in that the profiling that was being done to me was something I could change - I could get a different car. Then I wouldn't be stopped every time my husband worked past 11 p.m. and I had to pick him up at work.

    The stuff that happened in Texas wasn't that long ago - and it's still going on now. Which is a big reason why we were happy to leave.

    And I agree with the comment about that when you focus too much on one race/ethnicity, you end up overlooking crimes committed by others.

  • jrw (unverified)
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    This is appalling. That some here support it is even more so.

    Karol, thanks for writing this.

  • Watson (unverified)
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    Can anyone provide some stats in this post?

  • jaznpdx (unverified)
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    1. the goal is to abate gang violence in NE Portland.
    2. the violence is being committed by young black men in NE Portland.
    3. the cops are targeting young black men in NE Portland.

    Are they targeting young black men in Wilsonville? no. Are they targeting black women? apparently not Are they targeting other minorities in unaffected areas? doesn't seem so

    Racism is real. There are bad cops and bad policing decisions. This really doesn't seem to fall into that category.

    I recently moved back to the PacNW after 15 years in Washington, DC... a city with 60%+ black residents. The community policing plans in effect were set up mainly to deal with black on black crime, as that was the most prevalent type of violent crime. Is that racist? They clearly focused attention on young, Black men, as young, Black men perpetrated the vast majority of violent crime in the city.

    I do not disagree that the US and, undoubtedly, Oregon have a long way to go to cure the ills of racism. But hurling an accusation of racism at a police department that is trying to help make NE Portland safe for all its residents (both black and white) is disingenuous at best.

  • (Show?)

    Can we at least acknowledge the existence of the Constitution, for heaven's sake? What possible probable cause for search did they have? Were they looking for a suspect? No. Did this person behave erratically? No. Was there a crime in the immediate recent past? No. (a week does not count).

    What possible justification is there for a random suspicionless search based 100% on demographic profiling?

    Where is Sizer? She's supposedly against profiling. No comment?

  • Eric Parker (unverified)
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    This is not profiling. It is a response to a culture that has become a danger to other cultures because we are too scared to confront the damaging culture due to the fear of being called a 'rasist' and that we are just too accepting of other cultures, regardless of common sense, until it is too late to use common sense with that damaging culture.

    We have no one to blame but ourselves.

  • (Show?)

    Eric is 100% right. We should blame him.

  • Idler (unverified)
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    Wouldn’t the outrage be better spent on the fact that black youth are 10 times more likely to be victims of homicide than white youth, largely owing to gang activity? That’s what ought to have your stomach in knots and "put fear in you." Instead you attack the cops, who are trying to do something about it.

    Your own prejudices are likely to perpetuate violence against the people you want to spare from embarrassment.

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    So now having your civil rights violated is merely cause for embarrasment? I see.

  • Idler (unverified)
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    What civil rights violation? According to the story compliance with the checks is voluntary.

    But better we should tie ourselves in knots to avoid even the appearance of inappropriate searches, even if it means a huge loss of life, right? You suffer from the same inverted view, where your prejudices and obsessions matter more than reasonable practical measures to deal with an atrocious situation.

    What's your recommendation to deal with the problem? I know that if I lived in neighborhoods rife with homicidal violence, I'd want more police intervention, not less. Are my priorities screwed up, or are yours?

  • Steve (unverified)
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    "I dare anyone to find a white kid the same age who isn't dressed similarly."

    Walk the halls of Lincoln or Wilson High Schools.

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    To address the notion of "voluntary" random searches, I'm reminded of the joke about why hunting's not a sport--it can't be, if one of the participants doesn't know they're playing. Unless the cops inform the kid he has the right to refuse, that right is a sham.

    If your question to me is whether it is better for police to ignore the laws to solve a crime, I think the answer is pretty obvious. Suspicionless search isn't the appearance of impropriety; it IS inappropriate, full stop.

    What would I suggest? How about following the law? Stronger community policing and better recreational opportunities for youth would be a good start. With strong community policing, the chances are good they'd already KNOW that kid.

  • mp97303 (unverified)
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    @torridjoe:Unless the cops inform the kid he has the right to refuse, that right is a sham.

    I would be willing to bet that almost every cop out there will ask for their permission/consent prior to searching them.

  • (Show?)

    Police only have the right to stop and search people who they have probable cause to believe they have committed or about to commit a crime.

    Being Black and male in Portland IS NOT probably cause.

    If this was happening to white kids in Portland you would all be outrage. It is dishonest to say because a couple of black kids are shooting guns, then stopping all black males is justified.

    We have a loooooooong way to go in creating a just community in Portland.

  • Idler (unverified)
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    If this was happening to white kids in Portland you would all be outrage. It is dishonest to say because a couple of black kids are shooting guns, then stopping all black males is justified.

    We have a loooooooong way to go in creating a just community in Portland.

    If known white gangs were battling in the streets with firearms where I live, I would be screaming for the cops to intervene. I'd be 100 percent behind their deliberately button-holing and searching white kids and ignoring blacks, hispanics and asians.

    I suspect it would be illuminating to hear directly from the police precisely what they're doing with regard to the current Bloods/Crips business, and why. It is unquestionably illuminating to consider their actions in light of the bigger picture. Karol raised the concept of a mother's fears. But mothers of young black men have far more to fear from gang violence than the police. Young men are dying, but rarely are they killed by cops. Since bystanders are endangered too, mothers have to fear for their daughters too, along with all their other relatives and neighbors.

    So the question arises: why are you not furious about the people actually doing the killing? What is it that makes you so impervious to the greater problem and its awful consequences while you denigrate the police and look down your nose at fellow Portlanders for supposedly perpetuating an "unjust community"?

    Sniffing sanctimoniously about how unjust your fellow citizens are is not only uncharitable, it's stupid. How just is an environment where judgment and execution are carried out on the whims of rival gang members? How just is it for peaceable citizens to live under threat of deliberate and accidental violence, not to mention other offenses, because legitimate authorities can't or won't ensure their safety? Where's your concern about their rights? Are they SOL because the injustice they suffer doesn't fit your template?

  • mp97303 (unverified)
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    "Police only have the right to stop and search people who they have probable cause to believe they have committed or about to commit a crime."

    Right. But if the police walk up to you and ask to search you, you can either consent or walk away. Your choice.

    "if this was happening to white kids in Portland you would all be outrage."

    I would be willing to bet that not a single white person who supports the actions of the police would object to police targeting white kids if white kids were running around killing people.

  • Idler (unverified)
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    If this was happening to white kids in Portland you would all be outrage. It is dishonest to say because a couple of black kids are shooting guns, then stopping all black males is justified.

    We have a loooooooong way to go in creating a just community in Portland.

    If known white gangs were battling in the streets with firearms where I live, I would be screaming for the cops to intervene. I'd be 100 percent behind their deliberately button-holing and searching white kids and ignoring blacks, hispanics and asians.

    I suspect it would be illuminating to hear directly from the police precisely what they're doing with regard to the current Bloods/Crips business, and why. It is unquestionably illuminating to consider their actions in light of the bigger picture. Karol raised the concept of a mother's fears. But mothers of young black men have far more to fear from gang violence than the police. Young men are dying, but rarely are they killed by cops. Since bystanders are endangered too, mothers have to fear for their daughters too, along with all their other relatives and neighbors.

    So the question arises: why are you not furious about the people actually doing the killing? What is it that makes you so impervious to the greater problem and its awful consequences while you denigrate the police and look down your nose at fellow Portlanders for supposedly perpetuating an "unjust community"?

    Sniffing sanctimoniously about how unjust your fellow citizens are is not only uncharitable, it's stupid. How just is an environment where judgment and execution are carried out on the whims of rival gang members? How just is it for peaceable citizens to live under threat of deliberate and accidental violence, not to mention other offenses, because legitimate authorities can't or won't ensure their safety? Where's your concern about their rights? Are they SOL because the injustice they suffer doesn't fit your template?

  • Idler (unverified)
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    If this was happening to white kids in Portland you would all be outrage. It is dishonest to say because a couple of black kids are shooting guns, then stopping all black males is justified.

    We have a loooooooong way to go in creating a just community in Portland.

    If known white gangs were battling in the streets with firearms where I live, I would be screaming for the cops to intervene. I'd be 100 percent behind their deliberately button-holing and searching white kids and ignoring blacks, hispanics and asians.

    I suspect it would be illuminating to hear directly from the police precisely what they're doing with regard to the current Bloods/Crips business, and why. It is unquestionably illuminating to consider their actions in light of the bigger picture. Karol raised the concept of a mother's fears. But mothers of young black men have far more to fear from gang violence than the police. Young men are dying, but rarely are they killed by cops. Since bystanders are endangered too, mothers have to fear for their daughters too, along with all their other relatives and neighbors.

    So the question arises: why are you not furious about the people actually doing the killing? What is it that makes you so impervious to the greater problem and its awful consequences while you denigrate the police and look down your nose at fellow Portlanders for supposedly perpetuating an "unjust community"?

    Sniffing sanctimoniously about how unjust your fellow citizens are is not only uncharitable, it's stupid. How just is an environment where judgment and execution are carried out on the whims of rival gang members? How just is it for peaceable citizens to live under threat of deliberate and accidental violence, not to mention other offenses, because legitimate authorities can't or won't ensure their safety? Where's your concern about their rights? Are they SOL because the injustice they suffer doesn't fit your template?

  • Ron Hager (unverified)
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    <h2>Clearly Portland and many other U.S. cities are using the finest psychological testing methods available to identify those police officers that are the most bigoted, most antisocial, and most likely to commit a hate crime and then putting them on these kind of task forces. Those police mentioned above certainly fit that description in my book. None of this will stop until the public stops it. The jerks in charge are too committed to the "Blue Wall" to do anything meaningful to change police attitudes, police illogic and police brutality.</h2>

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