Does Portland Have a Real Solution for its Gang Problem?


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Portland has seen 11 gang-related shootings since the Dec. 12 murder of a gang member inside the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. City leaders are calling it a "gang war crisis" and the Portland police want a new coordinated strategy to combat the violence. But the call for action comes when many outreach programs are struggling for funding. Will the city's new effort address the causes or just the symptoms of gang violence? Will the rush to take action create bigger problems like innocent youth getting profiled for gang involvement?

This week, Jo Ann and Dave talk with John Canda, a former gang outreach worker for the city of Portland and Clayborn Collins, executive director of Emmanual Community General Services, about what needs to be done to really solve Portland's gang problem.

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Hello! Thanks for taking on this topic. In my own experience, I don't come into contact with gangs and gang violence, just what I read. When I read about it, it's hard not to draw what I consider to be sort of racist conclusions - gang violence is an asian problem or a black problem.

How can we make gang violence real to the white population that doesn't interact with the school system? Could we have a little history of gang violence in Portland? When did "gang violence" begin, and what do people think makes it attractive?

Thanks, I hope I've phrased my question well.

All I hear is that "we have a gang problem" or "we have a drug problem" or some other whiny BS comment. I never hear, "this is how we are going to stem the violence from gangs and stop the drugs" from officials. Then I hear people crying that their child is innocent (yet the child is dressed in gang attire with gang related tattoos and all the BS clothing and "throwing gang signs" behind their parents back.
Here's an idea, instead of complaining that we do not have enough money to deal with the problem, lets serve justice as it was served centuries past. For example, in roman times we tossed the criminals into the arena and let them kill each other or we tossed them to the lions... literally.

Overcrowding in the jails? Fine! Lets execute those who have been convicted of murder and admit to said murder. Why are we paying to house these people? That money could be better allocated elsewhere! Like our schools for example, or shelters, or rebuilding run-down neighborhoods. And while we are at it, jails is suppose to be for doing your time. NOT for lifting weights and playing basketball and being free to roam in a yard! WTF is that? We give them the comforts of home for committing crimes? HELL NO! Why should my taxes be used to pay for some criminal to watch TV or lift weights? Do we REALLY want these people being stronger than the guards that monitor them? Enough of the whiny BS from the ACLU or the other tree huggers out there. If you are one of those people and that offends you, GOOD! Then I will be dropping off the drug dealers and the gang bangers at YOUR doorstep and YOU can deal with them! Quit hiding behind your richy rich lifestyles and your upturned noses thinking that because you have money you are better than the rest.

So, what do you think we should do about the problems? Keep telling people that it doesn't happen in your back yard? Or ignore the tree huggers, execute the murderers, take the repeat offenders out to a jail in the middle of NOWHERE with NO TV, NO WEIGHTS, and 1 hour a day outside time. They are in jail to do their time, not exercise with weights bought with taxes, not to watch cable TV, and not to feel "at home" in ootsy cutsie jail cells with pictures on the walls and pens and pencils and books. ITS JAIL! NOT SCHOOL. NOT HOME. NOT THE GYM. JAIL! If you support what I have said, great. If not, no problem. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But if you think we should make jails be jails and not play places, then feel free to drop me an e-mail at and tell me what YOU think!

I would spend a day in a maximum security prison before I would call it a play place. Just saying..

Dave Mazza's picture

I hope Anonymous and other listeners were able to hear John Canda's response to the question (the podcast of the program was uploaded this morning in case you didn't). I think what was most important about John's response was the importance of not forgetting about the human condition from which this problem arises - the need for recognition, respect, comfort and community - and which transcends race or ethnicity. Gangs are unquestionably flawed surrogates for family and community, but often the only option readily available.

Unfortunately, most responses to gang issues ignore this leading to policies that are oriented towards the use of force - a strategy often does more to boost gang recruitment that deter it (and one that can be found outside of our urban centers as well if you look at how we've interacted with Iraqi's in that nation's urban centers). Finally, I would encourage folks to contact John Canda ( and get involved with him in putting forward alternatives to a "cop on every corner" to deal with Portland's gang problem.

Even though it was written almost two decades ago, I highly recommend Mike Davis' City of Quartz for an understanding of how our traditional response to gangs is not only ineffectual buy dangerously counterproductive in many ways.

Thank u very much for pointing out the fact, the use of force only creates a worse problem. The police treat you like a criminal first before they treat you like a citizen, and no one likes getting ruffed up for no apparent reason. I don't condone gangs, or gang violence, but there are 2 sides to every story, and fighting force with force isnt the answer, these are our own american people....