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Community group calls for gun violence state of emergency in Portland, $10 million investment

The No Hate Zone said it is "desperately seeking and asking for immediate action to save lives."

PORTLAND, Ore. — The No Hate Zone, a Portland-based organization that advocates for racial justice, held a news conference Wednesday at Dawson Park in North Portland to call for changes to address the rising gun violence in the city, which is disproportionately impacting people of color. 

It comes just over a week after a fatal shooting in broad daylight at Dawson Park on March 1. The victim, Mark Johnson, was Black. The suspect, Joseph Banks, is accused of shooting two other people in the same neighborhood one day earlier; both victims survived.

"The statistics are disturbing when it comes to people of color being killed by a firearm," said Sam Sachs, the founder of No Hate Zone. The group said it is "desperately seeking and asking for immediate action to save lives," citing Portland Police statistics showing in 2020, the victim in 68.5% of shooting homicides in the city was a person of color.

The news conference was held on the anniversary of another deadly shooting at Dawson Park. Titus McNack was shot and killed near the park — also during the daytime — on March 9, 2021. No arrests have been reported in that case.

RELATED: Man accused of shooting, killing person at Dawson Park shot two other people just 24 hours before, police say

The No Hate Zone called on Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and other local leaders to take three actions: 

  • Declare a state of emergency in Portland around gun violence, with a focus on the impact on people of color, specifically Black men
  • Create a task force to address gun violence within the next two weeks
  • Identify local, state and federal funding to invest $10 million into the Black community, supporting community organizations addressing gun violence

"Portland has never meaningfully invested in the Black community," Sachs added.

At the news conference, Sachs was joined by a number of Black men, many of whom are involved in anti-gun violence work at the grassroots level. 

"I'm not seeing people on the ground floor being acknowledged for their work," said Lionel Irving, the founder of Love is Stronger. "That makes me sad because they're out here day and night doing the work for free."

Irving said he hopes money is invested in people and groups making direct contact with the communities who are affected. He also wants to see more support from people in the community, not just politicians.

"As a community, we need to stand up and say we've had enough," Irving added. 

"We either care about gun violence or we don't," said Herman Greene, a pastor and member of the Portland Public Schools Board of Education. 

Greene called on the city to listen to leaders in the Black community and follow their lead. In order to stop shootings, he said, you have to talk to shooters — who are unlikely to be swayed by someone without a similar lived experience. 

"More police — I'm not saying we don't need them, I'm saying they're not the answer," Greene said. 

Community activist Royal Harris said much of the violence, particularly among young men, is a result of a nationwide culture of violence where shooting someone is the solution to disagreement or hurt feelings.

"The majority of men being killed are 20 to 40," Harris said. "We have adults thinking like kids." 

RELATED: Police arrest suspect in Feb. 26 fatal shooting in Portland's Lloyd District

"I want to celebrate life. I want to celebrate young men graduating, I want to celebrate young men reaching their milestones. I'm tired of going and celebrating a life after somebody's passed away," Irving said. 

In response, Commissioner Carmen Rubio, the commissioner in charge of Portland Parks and Recreation, said in part, "I know and recognize the urgency with which we need to act in response to the gun violence in our city. It’s why I’ve worked in partnership with the city’s Office of Violence Prevention to invest more than $3.5 million since May of last year. Those investments fund work in the community for both immediate intervention and long term prevention efforts."

Commissioner Mingus Mapps also released a statement, saying, "I am willing to discuss any of these approaches. I will continue to support and advocate for prevention programs and our Portland Police Bureau in helping us bring an end to this violence. I see hope in the progress of our Focused Intervention Team in partnership with Federal agencies.”

Watch the full news conference:

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