Portland Is Averaging Two Homicides a Week in 2021

The city reached that number with a spate of deadly shootings in Portland parks.

A memorial to Jean Gerich at the Southeast Portland intersection where she was killed in January. (Mick Hangland-Skill)

Less than 10 weeks into the new year, Portland has witnessed 20 homicides. Fifteen of the killings were committed with guns, says Lt. Greg Pashley of the Portland Police Bureau.

The city reached that number with a spate of deadly shootings in Portland parks, killings in public spaces that seemed to mark a new low for a city engulfed in gun violence.

Late on Monday, March 1, Jennifer Garcia and Charlie Borbon-Lopez were killed in a double slaying in Khunamokwst Park in Northeast Portland. They were 20 and 21, respectively.

A week later, on March 9, Titus McNack, 42, was shot and killed shortly after 2 pm in Dawson Park, a gathering space considered one of the few remnants of North Portland's historically Black neighborhood of Albina.

The killing of McNack brought Mayor Ted Wheeler to Dawson Park—the first time in memory the mayor has visited the scene of a shooting that did not involve a police officer.

"It's heartbreaking to be here," Wheeler told WW's news partner KATU-TV. "There's a playground behind me. This is broad daylight, middle of the day, people going about their daily business, and then this kind of horrific violence unfolds right in front of everyone. It's traumatizing."

The rise in shootings continues a bleak trend. In 2020, Portland saw 890 shootings, more than double the 393 reported the year before. 

Fifty-five people were killed by homicide last year in Portland, the highest number in a quarter century. At this pace, 2021 would easily eclipse that toll.

Portland isn't exceptional: Violent crime has risen nationwide during the pandemic, as young people find themselves with no work, no school and few prospects. But in this city, the shooting wave occurred after the dismantling of a Portland police squad called the Gun Violence Reduction Team, which had a history of disproportionately arresting Black people.

That's led to an increasingly bitter debate about whether police reductions have contributed to shootings that mostly kill people of color in Portland's poorest neighborhoods.

A coalition of religious leaders calling itself the Interfaith Peace and Action Collaborative announced a press conference for Thursday morning, where they will debut a proposal for reducing gunfire in communities of color.

In its announcement, shared by Wheeler's office, the group cited two additional statistics: In January and February, it said, Portland saw 163 shooting incidents and 43 shooting injuries.

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