Gang Violence Portland

Lucy Mashia poses for a portrait in Portland while showing one of her favorite photos of her son, Leonard James “L.J.” Irving, who was killed in a gang related shooting. Portland police have handled 81 gang shootings so far this year — and that’s actually a hopeful number for the officers who work on a team dedicated to trying to keep the violence at bay, their boss says.

Olivia Dimmer/The Oregonian

PORTLAND — Portland police have handled 81 gang shootings so far this year — and that’s actually a hopeful number for the officers who work on a team dedicated to trying to keep the violence at bay, their boss says.

The number shows a big decline — roughly 25 percent — from gang shootings reported by this time last year. It’s a 50 percent drop compared to the same period in 2015, when Portland logged a record year of gang violence and 15 people died. This year, no one has died in gang shootings. Last year, one person died.

The decrease has been hard won, Lt. James Dakin said.

A hiring freeze has reduced the ranks of officers targeting gang violence, Dakin said.

And while police and community members have made inroads in trying to convince witnesses to come forward to report gang violence, the fear and stigma remain major roadblocks to solving some cases, he and others said.

“There is a lack of experience of dedicated enforcement on criminal street gangs,” Dakin said. “There are the officers who have become experts in it, but we’re still in a personnel shortage and desperately trying to boost our numbers.”

Today, the Gang Enforcement Team has four sergeants and 16 full-time officers. In 2015, when gang violence skyrocketed, it had five sergeants, six detectives and 23 full-time officers, Dakin said.

Despite the challenges, Dakin said new tactics have helped reduce confrontations, including arresting gang members involved in retaliation shootings.

The gang officers also are trying a simpler tactic, he said: kindness.

“We have some of the best communicators in the Police Bureau,” Dakin said. “The way they treat others, it comes back to them. I have had officers on patrol where gang members are treating them horrendously. But when a gang officer shows up, the person knows that officer and has a relationship with them. When you treat others the way you want to be treated, that pays off.”

But while the Police Bureau is on the right track, Dakin said, investigations often become mired in the gang code of silence.

“It’s very difficult, that’s the biggest obstacle we face,” Dakin said. “You can be a Crip and not talk to the police about a blood. We are the enemy to all of them and getting information is very difficult.”

Dakin praises the work of families affected by gang violence who are trying to make a difference, like the mother of Leonard James “L.J.” Irving.

The night L.J. Irving was shot to death, he had made time between his two jobs to celebrate his nephew’s 21st birthday.

At 9:30 p.m. on June 25, 2011, his shift at WinCo Foods ended and he had to report to the Lloyd Center’s Courtyard Marriott by 7 a.m. the next day to work as a part-time chef.

But family was important, he told his girlfriend. So he slipped on a lime green shirt and dark jeans and headed out to the northeast Portland bar Seeznin’s to meet his nephew.

Outside the bar after midnight, Irving’s nephew, Lamar Lovette Hill, and another man got into a verbal fight. Irving broke up the argument and walked across the street to a parking lot to get in his car and go home.

As he opened the door of his minivan, he was shot in the back four times. He died in the parking lot. At the time, his death was one of six resulting from the 103 gang-related shootings that year.

Irving’s mother, Lucy Mashia, said dozens of people saw what happened to her son. But no one wants to tell police. Six years later, no one has been convicted with Irving’s murder.

Now doing her best to raise his children, Mashia has dedicated her free time to gang violence prevention work in the hopes that other mothers won’t have to live through the same tragedy.

“Because my son wasn’t involved in gangs, I never thought that would happen to my family,” Mashia said. “And I think people think the same thing, that they’re going to keep their mouth shut and sit over there in a corner, and it’ll never happen to them. But that’s not the case.”

In June, Mashia helped organize a vigil in Peninsula Park for victims of gun violence in Portland. Many of the cases have gone unsolved, like her son’s.

“Because my son wasn’t involved in gangs, I never thought that would happen to my family,” Mashia said. “And I think people think the same thing, that they’re going to keep their mouth shut and sit over there in a corner, and it’ll never happen to them. But that’s not the case.”

A man who previously served time for a separate gang shooting was charged in Irving’s death but the charges later were dismissed. Police cited a lack of evidence.

“In my son’s case, there were two guys in his van when he was shot and killed,” Mashia told The Oregonian/OregonLive as her voice shook in her north Portland home. “But they refused to be involved because they’re afraid of retaliation. And this stupid system says that’s snitching. It’s not, that’s being a witness.”

As she flipped through a scrapbook of pictures of her son, Mashia described him as a hard-working man who loved his three kids.

“He was the family member all the cousins knew to go talk to if they had a problem,” said Mashia, 62. “He was the non-judgmental kind and always had good advice. He just loved everybody.”

Now doing her best to raise his children, Mashia has dedicated her free time to gang violence prevention work in the hopes that other mothers won’t have to live through the same tragedy.

In June, Mashia helped organize a vigil in Peninsula Park for victims of gun violence in Portland. Many of the cases have gone unsolved, like her son’s.

“Because my son wasn’t involved in gangs, I never thought that would happen to my family,” Mashia said. “And I think people think the same thing, that they’re going to keep their mouth shut and sit over there in a corner, and it’ll never happen to them. But that’s not the case.”

The only way to hold people accountable for their crimes and encourage witnesses to come forward is to change the community expectation, Mashia said.

“To me if we can start holding people accountable as a community for what they do, then they’ll realize they don’t have a license to kill,” she said. “You don’t get to keep doing this. We’re not going to stand for it. That’s the message I want to get out there.”

She works with Self Enhancement Inc., a nonprofit program that provides mentoring and tutoring to African American kids living in the areas of Portland plagued by gang violence and poverty.

“My son’s death will not be in vain,” she said. “If I can help stop the silence, stop the killings, in any small way... I don’t feel like it would make up for his life, but I feel like I did something to honor his life.”

‘YOU REALLY DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT’S GOING ON’

It’s that type of front-line commitment to change that the Community Peace Collaborative is trying to spur.

At a recent twice-monthly meeting of the group, a standing-room-only crowd filled the conference room inside the Portland Police Bureau North Precinct. A mix of social service providers, city officials, police officers and district attorneys mingle with residents, all with the same goal in mind.

“We’re using these meetings to be able to get information out to the public as to how they can network ... to be able to resolve community issues, public safety issues, trauma concerns,” said Tom Peavey, the policy manager for the city’s Office of Youth Violence Prevention.

Though the meetings were set up by police and city officials as part of a community mobilization effort to quell gang violence, the group has since tackled issues of poverty, racial tension, mental illness and more.

The collaborative also has sponsored campaigns encouraging witnesses to violence to speak to authorities.

“It’s very difficult for police to investigate cases when you don’t have anyone coming forward,” Peavey said. “So we’ve sponsored Crime Stoppers, Enough is Enough and other messaging and had people talk about this.”

But ultimately, Peavey said, the path to a solution means engaging more people.

“I would encourage anybody who wants to be involved to attend the Community Peace Collaborative meetings,” Peavey said, “because until you are face-to-face with the people who are impacted or with the services that are investigating or supporting people who have faced trauma, you really don’t understand what’s going on nor do you understand what you can do.”

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