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Surprise: Violence Spikes in Portland After City Leaders Eliminate Key Police Task Force

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

"Defund the police" is not merely a losing political bumper sticker. Far more importantly, it's a terrible, dangerous idea that results in misery for communities victimized by increased crime after local officials foolishly undermine law enforcement based on woke sloganeering. We've written about adverse consequences in places like New York and Minneapolis, where the city had to backtrack on its idiotic posture after crime spiked. A new Associated Press story out this week documents the demise of an elite police unit in Portland, Oregon. The fallout has been entirely predictable and tragic. The piece begins with a very sad anecdote:

Elmer Yarborough got a terrifying call from his sister: She wept as she told him two of his nephews may have been shot in broad daylight as they left a bar in Portland, Oregon. He drove there as fast as he could. An officer told him one of his nephews was heading to the hospital and the other, Tyrell Penney, hadn’t survived. “My sister, Tyrell’s mom, was on the phone; I just said, ‘He’s gone.’ And I just heard the most horrific scream that you could ever imagine,” Yarborough said. When Penney was killed last summer, unrest was roiling liberal Portland as protesters took to the streets nightly to demand racial justice and defunding police. At the same time, one of the whitest major cities in America was experiencing its deadliest year in more than a quarter-century — a trend seen nationwide — with shootings that overwhelmingly affected the Black community...

Responding to the calls for change in policing, the mayor and City Council cut several police programs from the budget, including one Yarborough believes could have saved his nephew. A specialized unit focused on curbing gun violence, which had long faced criticism for disproportionately targeting people of color, was disbanded a month before Penney, a 27-year-old Black man visiting from Sacramento, California, was killed on July 25... “Without a doubt, I think it is a possibility that my nephew could still be alive if (the Gun Violence Reduction Team) was not dissolved,” said Yarborough, a crisis response volunteer for Portland police who responds to shootings to support victims’ families. “I cannot say for sure if he would, but what I will tell you is had it not been my nephew that was saved, it probably could have saved the life of someone else,” he said.

The AP references some "officials and experts" who attribute the surge in violence to pandemic-related stressors, but others clearly aren't buying that as a full explanation. "I cannot say for sure if he would, but what I will tell you is had it not been my nephew that was saved, it probably could have saved the life of someone else," Mr. Yarborough said. And as the far-left city government has heeded activists' demands to defund law enforcement, the results speak for themselves:

More people died of gunfire last year in Portland — 40 — than the entire tally of homicides the previous year. The number of shootings — 900 — was nearly 2 1/2 times higher than the year before. The spike has continued this year, with more than 150 shootings, including 45 people wounded and 12 killed so far...So far this year, there have been 17 homicides — a concerning number considering there had only been one homicide in the same period in 2020... Police had warned of possible repercussions of ending the unit, pointing out cautionary tales in other cities that had made a similar choice.  Portland police quoted former Salinas, California, Police Chief Kelly McMillin: “Not to be overly dramatic, but if you lose the unit which focuses on removing firearms from the hand[s] of violent offenders, people will die. It’s really just that simple.” Stockton, California, began disbanding and defunding police units dedicated to gun violence in 2010. In 2011 and 2012, the city’s homicide rates reached record highs. After the city restored the units, homicides significantly declined, according to data reported by police.

That data seems significant, especially since the patterns occurred during a "normal," non-pandemic period of time. But Portland's feckless, leftist mayor (who doubles as police commissioner), Ted Wheeler, has asserted that he doesn't personally believe the decision to eliminate the anti-gun violence task force has made any difference in his city. "I believe if [the Gun Violence Reduction Team] were [around] today, we would still see a substantial, if not identical increase, in shootings in Portland," he said. Axing the police squad is framed as a racial justice issue, but communities of color have suffered disproportionate harm. A Gallup poll released last summer revealed that 81 percent Black Americans wanted policing levels in their own communities to remain the same or increase, with just 19 percent preferring a lighter law enforcement footprint. And some post-election data analyses suggest that "defund the police" pushes among Democrats may have harmed the party among voters of color:

I'll leave you with more lawlessness in that mess of a city:


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