This past week a photo with two police officers arresting a drug dealer and headline above the fold in the Portland Tribune read, “Adams vows to help Old Town.” Three weeks prior, the Tribune ran an article above the fold with a homeless person smoking what appears to be crack cocaine with a headline that read, “Crack Alley.”
Leaders from the Old Town/Chinatown neighborhood association and business owners have gone on a crusade about the drug dealing in the neighborhood. These voices coupled with folks at the District Attorney’s office and the police bureau have, in my humble opinion, forced the mayor to respond with a plan to publicly come down on the dealers. It all amounts to nothing more than political theater that would have made for an excellent episode of the Wire.
Caught in the middle is Central City Concern, which works with individuals in recovery and people dealing with an addiction, to deliver housing, jobs and many other critical services that help people out of poverty. Some attorney’s have raised questions about the legality of the Mayor’s new proposal. Advocates have raised questions about the civil rights of people in the neighborhood. Meanwhile, people will continue to find a way to get high.
It’s not the Mayor’s handling of the matter, or the questions about legality and civil rights (although I do have some), that bug me. It’s the way our neighborhood is being portrayed.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my neighborhood, and my spending habits prove it. I spend most every day of the week buying lunches, going to coffee dates and buying presents for family members back home in the neighborhood. I am on a first name basis with many business owners and workers around the neighborhood. We look out for one another.
SR recently published an editorial laying out several steps it would take to curb the drug dealing in the neighborhood by creating food cart pods, SR vendors, and other street-level activities to move the dealers out of the hood. I was the first to admit, after talking with city commissioners, and neighborhood heads that those ideas can’t be done overnight, and it would take more revenue than we currently have to make those ideas a reality.
Here’s what I don’t get. The negative press created by going on a public campaign to have the Mayor do something about drug dealing has actually created more fear about the neighborhood being a horrible place than it ever had prior to the PR blitz. For what? A small tweak in policy that divides the neighborhood and may or may not result in ridding the neighborhood of a drug-culture that has existed for decades.
After reading any number of the articles in the Tribune and other papers, why would tourists, families and other Portlanders want to come to the neighborhood and support local businesses? Why would the demographics that the Tribune is marketing to want to come to Old Town to shop? The truth is, they won’t and why should they? It’s “Crack Alley.”
This entire ordeal should have been handled in a different manner, and with a much larger harm reduction approach.
Special interest groups can spin the numbers however they like, but the truth is crime is down across downtown. And life in Old Town/Chinatown is not ghetto, and it’s not “Crack Alley.”
It’s a neighborhood in a city that is growing up, a place where thousands of people live and work and where people come together and support one another. It’s not what it has been portrayed by local leaders.
by Israel Bayer