Last Friday In North Portland

There is no single cape-wearing superhero we can call on to stop gang violence among Portland’s youth, but we can call on all of us to be heroes in our own ways that together, can change the story.

By Charlie Hales of Portland, Oregon. Hales served as a Portland City Commissioner from 1992 to 2002, and is now running for Mayor. Learn more at

Last Friday night was a warm fall night, a great evening for some high school football. On the field were two great North Portland rivals - Jefferson and Grant High Schools – eager for their annual showdown. I had the pleasure of being invited to join the home team by Julie Rogers, a long time Jefferson Booster.

As a candidate for Mayor, I was there to do what community leaders do – shake some hands, meet folks, hear what’s on their minds and hearts, and catch a little football. What actually happened is that I saw stirring examples of community-building and community policing in action.

The Jefferson community is doing great things. Principal Margaret Calvert, her team of teachers and staff, the parents, and their many community partners, are building a great future for this, our oldest high school. Community policing was also there Friday night…something we now need more than ever. This is an approach that promotes partnerships with citizens and local community service groups. Community policing encourages proactive problem-solving techniques, reaching out to the community with feet on the street and eyes on the kids to address the conditions that give rise to crime. Officers are in touch with the community and go beyond the normal patrol routine to be accessible to people and businesses. They strive to be approachable to everyone, including kids in the neighborhoods.

There was a solid group on hand from the Police Bureau last Friday, including Captain Kevin Modica from the Bureau of Police’s Youth Services Division and Officer Christopher Burley from the Gang Enforcement Team. It was good to see them and their team on the job. I also met and heard passionate advocacy for kids from Robert Blake and Ron Macias, gang outreach specialists from Brother’s & Sister’s Keepers, Inc.

These folks are doing the hard work of preventing and responding to gang violence. Day-to-day, that can involve anything from reaching out to at-risk youth to being first on the scene after an incident of gang violence. On Friday night, tragically, their job involved both hanging out for some football, sending those positive messages to kids, and later that night, responding to the tragic and senseless shooting of a young North Portland man.

Just a few hours after the game, only one block away, Deandre Clark was shot in a gang-related incident. Ron Macias emailed me at 7:30 a.m., having been up all night with Brother’s and Sister’s Keepers and the Portland Police Bureau responding to the call.

This young man deserved a good life. He was robbed of it by toxic violence.  When incidents like this happen, so close to our schools that are working hard to give kids a positive path, all of us have work to do, starting with supporting groups like Brother’s and Sister’s Keepers and others on the front line of the battle for these young people's futures.

The recent trend of increased gang violence is unacceptable. We need to come together as a community and redouble our efforts to reach out to at-risk kids across the city. We need to support a broad community policing standard that encourages officers to truly become a part of the neighborhood.

There is no single cape-wearing superhero we can call on to stop gang violence among Portland’s youth, but we can call on all of us to be heroes in our own ways that together, can change the story. We, as people, can make a difference with every action we take. Join me in helping to reduce gang violence in Portland. Volunteer with one of the organizations offering mentorship and opportunity for our youth. Ride along with a police officer. Your action matters. Together, we can make Portland safe, and a place of promise for all.

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    Portland continues to overlook the importance of solid middle grade eduction. Vancouver understands the importance of engaging kids in school in the middle grades where they have full programs of sports, music, and the arts. This, of course, is not a panacea, but it would surely help a lot. I only bring it up because, as usual, a politician overlooks it.

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    Charlie may not have mentioned middle schools in this post, but that is not to say he is not running on a platform of support for the several school districts in the city. In ever speech he has made, he references the need for the city to support local schools. Specifically regarding your comment, he is on record supporting the CAN initiative, which will bring arts education to all elementary schools, as well as aiding local arts organizations. Elementary school arts was the first priority of Portland's school superintendents when asked by the CAN drafters. Steve- I a former politician, I see no need for your snarky comment about politicians. Didn't you get elected to the Portland School Board yourself?

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      Steve, the snarky comment was directed at politicians, including every member of the Portland School Board for the last 20 years and every city council member or mayor during that time overlooking this issue -- the horrible middle grade education in PPS, which has a huge negative affect on the drop out problem as well as poorly prepared graduates. Not at politicians themselves.

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    Thanks Charlie for recognizing that our children's future is a shared community responsibility. Gang violence is symptom of a broader societal breakdown where certain communities feel that they are marginalized, neglected or forgotten. This is especially true for communities of color and immigrants who struggle to fit in mainstream American life where language, culture and race are barriers. We all have a responsiblity to make our city welcoming and safe for our kids.

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    Thank you for this post, Charlie. I live in this neighborhood and I'd like to get more involved. Can you list some organizations or individuals I could get in touch with?

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