Symptom of a Much Bigger Problem

Mayor falls short in response to gang violence

Sharde Nabors | 7/10/2014, 1:01 p.m.
A Portland mother says to Mayor Charlie Hales, "If these kids grow up to kill a man in the park ...
Sharde Nabors Photo by Dracey Ware

Dear Mayor Hales,

I am writing you to express my concern about gang violence in the beautiful city of Portland. Today I read a news story that quoted you saying gang violence is a “public safety and a public health crisis.” You called upon the community to do their part to stop the shootings that have plagued Outer Northeast and Southeast as well as North Portland. However, I would like to call upon you to evaluate how effectively you do your part.

Now, I will agree that we all have a part to play. I personally play the part of mother to my two children and will do all that I can to keep them away from gangs and violence. The part that you must play – that you chose to play – is as a leader. So, forgive me for putting the onus on you. You signed up for the job and as a Portland citizen, I expect you to do it.

When I hear of shootings in these troubled areas of town, I wonder how they are even possible. I know how “dangerous” these neighborhoods are. The poverty levels in these parts of town are higher than in others and I know that poverty often leads to crime and violence. So, why aren’t they being patrolled more efficiently by our lovely boys in blue? More than 20 officers can be dispatched to a bar on Southeast Belmont to question a rapper, but there are never any around when kids get shot. Sounds like gang violence is merely a symptom of a much bigger problem.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe gang violence is a huge concern. Those are my kids in danger. My son was at the Boys and Girl’s Club on North Trenton a couple of weeks ago when a man was shot in New Columbia. My concerns are very real. They go beyond trying to make the city a reflection of cable TV shows.

On your website, you say you want to develop a “comprehensive resource for young, [B]lack males in Portland to realize their fullest potential.” While I find that very admirable, I also find it rather amusing. It’s funny that the word “gang” is often synonymous with the word “Black.” Gang issues are automatically Black issues and Black issues are automatically gang issues. But I’d like to open up your statement to all lower-class young males; Black, brown and white because I know it’s not just Black men who get involved in gangs.

The other thing that I find funny about this statement is that while you want them to realize their potential, the city has made every attempt to stifle them. The schools these kids attend are not properly funded and never have been. I am a graduate of Jefferson High School and I know the “no funds for school” blues all too well. We had crappy teachers, insufficient materials and little to no programs that would lead us anywhere other than a basketball court. Our children are undereducated and underexposed to opportunities. How on earth can they even know what their potential is half the time?