Shortly before 10 am on April 16, Portland police officers arrived at Lents Park in response to a 911 call about a man quick-drawing a gun amid the spring greenery. The cops found Robert Delgado, who was holding what turned out to be a replica handgun, near the tent where he’d spent the night. Police issued commands to Delgado, who flipped them off in response, according to police radio transmissions.
Four minutes after police arrived on the scene, Delgado was dead. Officer Zachary DeLong shot and killed him from 90 feet away, police estimate, while standing behind a tree.
Like many Portlanders, Raven Drake believes Delgado’s death was preventable. Unlike most people, Drake knew him.
Drake, 37, is the manager of Street Roots’ ambassador program, which does outreach work with Portland’s unhoused community—including sharing up-to-date information about the COVID-19 vaccine and conducting a trauma-informed survey about the effectiveness of Portland Street Response, which it is partnered with.
Drake says she personally visited Delgado about once every other week since February. She and other Street Roots ambassadors would often sit and talk with Delgado in the park.
Drake spoke with WW about her conversations with Delgado, the Portland Police Bureau’s interactions with the city’s unhoused community, and the reasons some people living outside choose to carry a weapon.
The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
WW: When did you first meet Robert Delgado?
Raven Drake: September of last year. Robert was up in Laurelhurst for the longest time. It was after the first sweep through Laurelhurst Park at the end of December, beginning of January, that Robert ended up moving down to the Lents Park area.
We started seeing him in Lents in early February. Because Lents is so huge, we divided it into quadrants. So we’d see Robert probably every other week when we’d circle back through that quadrant that encompasses Lents Park.
What was Robert like during those interactions?
At first, Robert really wouldn’t speak to me. He was really quiet. When he first got to Lents, the interactions were a little strange. You know, new environment, new people living around him that he wasn’t quite used to yet.
But seeing us, I think, we were a constant for him. I think he started to look forward to those visits. All of us used to be on the street. We were comfortable just sitting around his camp and having a conversation like human beings. I think for a few moments, each time we’d show up, the impact of being houseless wasn’t a factor.
Over that time period, for me, he became a friend. He became somebody I liked to go out there and meet. He was really quiet but really sweet and funny once you got to know him. I enjoyed going out there and sitting down with him and having a laugh.
Police say Robert was carrying a replica handgun. Can you explain why unhoused people might carry a weapon or something that looks like a weapon?
I was unhoused. I am a trans woman. I myself kept a weapon. I had it for protection. You’re living out there, and the only thing that’s between you and anybody walking by is a little bit of ripped-up nylon. Weapons are commonplace out there. Even within our own unhoused community, there are violent people who will attack people for what they have. We don’t keep weapons to be a threat to society. We keep weapons to protect ourselves from that society.
If Robert was living in a house that he was paying rent for, and someone tried to break in and assault him, and he used a weapon to defend himself, we would not be discussing him as a threat to society. But because he was in a tent on public land and he’s unhoused and doesn’t have a permanent address of his own, somehow having that same weapon makes him a criminal. And that’s not fair.
Could Robert’s death have been prevented?
It could have been prevented if Portland Police Bureau officers were actually correctly trained for that kind of situation. I believe that every PPB officer should be retrained, and I think they need extensive training to keep their jobs. I don’t believe that we’re a city ready to be without a police force, but I think any officer keeping their job must go through different criteria, because this is unacceptable.
PPB has no business responding to nonviolent crimes. That’s been my viewpoint since I was on the street and had very bad interactions myself with PPB officers. We will not call PPB even if our own lives are in danger. We’d rather take care of it ourselves. Because their interventions to anyone out there on the street always hurts one of us.
I’ve actually met really good officers who treat people like human beings. I think there’s a lot of rotten apples, but every once in a while, a really good one falls off the tree. The problem is, if you throw a good apple in with rotten ones, eventually it becomes rotten, too.
What do you wish people knew about Robert?
Robert deserves for people to know that he wasn’t just somebody who was crazy in the park. He was a really good man who was somewhat misunderstood. People need to know how kind and funny and how sweet he really was. I used to watch him help people living around him even when he didn’t have anything. His kindness transcended everything about him.