A series of fatal shootings in the past week have pushed Portland’s homicides to 53 this year. This marks the most killings that the city has experienced since the early 1990s.
Since Saturday, four people of color have been gunned down in North, Northeast and Southeast Portland. The list includes 44-year old marijuana dispensary employee Michael Arthur, 23-year-old Uber driver Dhulfiqar Kareem Mseer, 53-year-old Kelley Marie Smith and 16-year-old Abdushukri Uren. Three of the shootings were the result of gang-related violence.
The increase in shooting-related deaths has mounted in an extraordinary year when the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, social justice protests, wildfires and a contested presidential election have dominated headlines.
But in Portland, two stark markers have stood out.
The first is the fact that more than half the deaths were caused by shootings: 35. The second, 25 victims – nearly half of them – were people of color, including the past week’s killings. Of these, 20 were Black, four were Latino and one was Asian. The remaining 27 were White.
“This has not been the theme or the topic to cover. It’s been everything else,” stated Nike Greene, director of Portland’s Office of Violence Prevention. “How do we really portray that Black lives matter if, still in Portland, a disproportionate number of African American males are victims of gun violence?”
Portland Police Bureau (PPB) Chief Chuck Lovell estimated that Portland is averaging a shooting every two days. In a videotaped message, this week, he pleaded for people with any information on the killings to share it with police.
“The disparate impact of violence on our communities of color is shocking,” he added. “Our African American, Somali, Iraqi, Latino and other communities are grieving the loss of loved ones.”
The rise in shootings in Portland reflects something that’s being seen in other major cities across America this year. According to data provided by the Gun Violence Archive, deaths from mass shootings in the U.S. in 2020 had already exceeded year-end totals for each year from 2014 to 2018 by August alone. (Related: Chicago sees 139% increase in gun-related murders, and 75% increase in shooting incidents under gun-grabbing Mayor Lightfoot.)
In New York City, authorities noted that shootings in the city surged to levels not seen in years. While overall crime levels remained flat in NYC, shootings have risen by 95 percent for the first 11 months of the year when compared to 2019.
The same has happened in Minneapolis, where more than 500 people have been killed or wounded by gunfire, the highest tally the city has seen in 15 years according to data released by the Minneapolis Police Department.
Experts point to a myriad of factors that may be at play – pandemic-enforced social isolation, economic calamity, the closure of schools and the canceling of sports and other social activities for youth and an increase in gun purchases earlier in the year. In addition, criminologists also cited cuts to police budgets, challenges to police legitimacy and the resulting reluctance of police to intervene for fear they’ll get in trouble.
In Portland, both police and violence reduction activists cited a City Hall-imposed reorganization that eliminated a police team dedicated to responding all shooting scenes and investigating non-fatal ones.
In response, city governments are now scrambling to find ways to address the increase in shootings. On Friday, Portland Mayopr Ted Wheeler announced alongside PPB Chief Lovell announced that the city would be diverting more detectives to investigate shootings while stepping up hospital-based trauma response to victims and their families. They also promised to enlist the help of local and federal prosecutors, state police, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“Too many lives are being lost. The time for action is now,” Wheeler said. But Portland police have not said where the additional detectives will be pulled from.
Follow Violence.news for more on how shootings while the left continues to call for police to be defunded.