From the door outside a popular downtown nightclub, Damien Rice watches you. He checks your clothing, eyes, attitude, looking for hidden weapons or any other trigger that could explode into violence. As head of security for H2O (204 SW Yamhill St.), Rice must rely on his lightning-quick ability to judge security risks.
Rice and bouncers at other downtown clubs have had to be especially vigilant after a wave of five late-night shootings near their businesses in four months. Last weekend, security forces got backup from cops who flooded downtown streets in a show of force designed to ease the fears of diners and clubgoers.
WW asked Rice, a 25-year-old Northeast Portland resident who's also worked security at clubs like Icon and the revamped Satyricon, for the inside view of this year's shootings and the reality of racial profiling.
WW: What do you think is behind these shootings?
Damien Rice: It's summer, people are getting out of jail, and a lot of the stuff has been during our heat waves. It gets hot, people go get drunk, barbecuing, then they come downtown and got their buzz going on, and candy is dandy but liquor is quicker. Some of the things have been nowhere near the clubs. They were just downtown.
Do you think the shootings are gang-related?
I could not say.
Were they random?
I would not say random, because when you shoot someone you don't know, you already have something against them. This is not L.A., where people just get shot every day. This is Portland. It's a town where pretty much everybody knows everybody.
If the police got more power, like enhanced surveillance, do you think people would feel safer?
They have enough power; they just don't have enough manpower. A cop drives by [the club] all the time, but he just looks, sees that everything is OK, and keeps on going.... If you want the whole intimidation factor, put two cops on the corner of where the Greek Cusina is and where The City is. Put one on the corner by the Vue, put one on the corner near the Red Sea. Put two between McFadden's and Voodoo. Put another one by Barracuda. Put another one over by the Dixie.
So do you profile people?
All the time, even when I'm not working.
What about when you're working the door?
I profile people by their demeanor. You could be white, you could be Asian, you could be Puerto Rican or black, but if you come around the corner wearing a hat way too big for your head cocked sideways, a huge white T- shirt, and big baggy jeans hanging down past your buttocks, then I'm saying, 'This guy looks like a thug.' But then if you walk up to me, are well-spoken, look me in the eye, shake my hand, ask me interesting and articulate questions, then I'm like, 'Wow, I was wrong.'
What are you looking for? How do you size people up?
I see you initially when you start to approach. I get a feel from the way you walk, your mannerisms, looking at your eyes, seeing if you're looking at me, how much you turn your head left to right, seeing how fidgety you are. You know how you can get a vibe off a person? Even when you make the assumption that someone's OK, they can still lash out at you if they have a razor blade in their mouth or a knife in their boot. But you can't be ready for everything, all the time.
Have you considered wearing a bulletproof vest?
I did, for a while, when I was working at the Icon last year, when nine people were shot [on or near] the corner of 6th Avenue and Couch Street. I was scared, so after the fourth person got shot, one of our guys brought in his bulletproof vest. I mean, it doesn't totally protect you, but it does give you a sense of security.
Do you think Portlanders are going to stop going out?
People make jokes all the time, about 'Oh, I am gonna get shot!' but they still come downtown. They still go to the clubs. They still go out and get drunk and fight you when you want their keys at the end of the night.
Rice graduated from Jefferson High in 1998 and has worked at H20 for almost eight months.
For more on recent downtown shootings, see page 7.