Portland Nears 400 Shootings in Five Months as Police Grapple for a Response

22 people have lost their lives to gun violence in Portland in 2021.

As Portland nears 400 shootings in less than five months, nearly every regional law enforcement agency—including the FBI’s Portland field office—is coordinating a street presence this weekend in hopes of deterring retribution.

As of Friday, 23 people had died in Portland shootings this year. As of Thursday, 388 non-suicide shooting incidents had left 125 people injured, according to Sgt. Kevin Allen with the Portland Police Bureau.

The death toll this week is three people, including Jalon M. Yoakum, a 33-year-old Black man who was the stepson of Pastor J.W. Matt Hennessee, one of the city’s most prominent advocates for an increased police response to Portland’s shooting wave.

On Friday night, the Police Bureau announced a coordinated deterrence effort that will include FBI agents. (Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office previously signed a deal with the FBI to work jointly in investigating gun homicides.) Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office are also participating.

“Our biggest hope with this overt effort is that we can stop the seemingly indiscriminate cycle of violence that can be both retaliatory and random,” said Kieran L. Ramsey, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon, in a statement Friday. “We know that there are crime groups retaliating against other groups for perceived grievances. We also know that the number of bullets being fired—often dozens at any given scene—keep going until they hit something or someone. There are random, innocent victims who did nothing more than be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The two other people killed by gunfire this week were Danae K. Williams, 25, and Jemare Lowell Manns, 21. Both were Black. William was one of two people shot Wednesday night in the Woodlawn neighborhood, while Manns was shot Sunday at a house party in Lents.

The killings are part of a tragic pattern unfolding in the city, which began around the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and has increased unabated even as the city has opened back up. Black Oregonians are being disproportionately impacted.

In 2020, Portland saw 890 shootings, more than double the 393 reported the year before. Fifty-five people died, the most in 26 years. This year’s violence is on pace to eclipse those records.

Local officials are struggling to find reasons and solutions. One several occasions, gunfire has erupted at vigils for the victims. A team of contractors for the city’s Office of Violence Prevention has tried to dissuade people from seeking revenge.

City officials have fiercely debated whether the spike in shootings was caused by the defunding of the Police Bureau’s Gun Violence Enforcement Team. The mayor’s budget, approved by the Portland City Council this week, deploys officers to respond to gun crimes but does not add funding to pay for that assignment.

Schmidt, the district attorney, pledged a prosecutorial response on Friday.

“I join community leaders and law enforcement to say I am worried about retaliatory and targeted shootings that may occur at funerals and vigils after someone is murdered,” he said. “That is why, as prosecutors, we will continue to prioritize and apply all of our legal resources and knowledge to investigating and prosecuting acts of gun violence to hold shooters accountable.”

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