Everyone who has wandered through Old Town or Chinatown has probably had an interaction with a good old-fashioned crack addict.
Everyone who has wandered through Old Town or Chinatown has probably had an interaction with a good old-fashioned crack addict. They are loud, scary and smoke a lot of crack. Over the last few months, business owners have been lobbying to re-instate the 2007 Drug Free Zones, which could potentially cut down on this problem, but could also potentially create more difficulties.
Many residents and business owners in Old Town are backing the proposed Drug Free Zones, which were originally enacted by Portland Mayor Tom Potter. The zones make it a crime for those who have recently been convicted of a drug-related crime to enter the designated area. The punishment is that their ban is extended by a year, and they are charged with trespassing and may face an additional fine.
Currently, the proposal that the neighborhood association has compiled would specifically ban those convicted of dealing drugs, and would allow those who were excluded to enter the area if they were trying to attend school, get medical treatment or visit one of the various shelters in the area. The original laws allowed those excluded to enter after they applied for and received a waiver, but they could only use specified routes.
The main argument against the proposal is that in 2007, an independent study proved that the zones were used to racially target and discriminate against those found “unsightly.” The Justice Institute’s study in 2006 researched Drug Free Zones across the nation and found an overwhelming amount of evidence that many of the arrests were racially motivated.
“Only 15 percent of whites were charged with an eligible offense (distribution or possession with intent) compared to 52 percent of non-white defendants,” states the JI report. The city released information on the arrests in the zones, and a shocking fact emerged: every single African American who was stopped was issued a written exclusion—100 percent.
The Defense Attorney’s website states that “The average decrease in drug related arrest is 35 percent, where surrounding areas show an increase in drug arrest of only 12 percent.” This brings up another argument against the DFZs—whether or not they stop crimes, or whether they simply force criminals to relocate. While this presents an inconvenience to drug addicts and drug dealers, it denies the fact that drug-related criminals are persistent—very persistent. You could almost say that they’re addicted to drugs.
While a good idea in theory, the DFZs seem to fail overwhelmingly in practice. Like many programs and systems the Oregon Legislature proposes, it sounds good on paper and falls apart when enacted in reality.
The major problems that the DFZs propose to solve could in turn find a solution in more funding to police departments, which would in turn allow more officers to patrol areas with high drug rates – places like Old Town, for instance! The lack of resources is a major issue in the virtual free-for-all that has developed in Old Town.
Old Town is now home to a large amount of dangerous drug dealers—those who involve themselves with crack, cocaine and even heroin are not very neat people. They harass pedestrians, hurt the downtown economy and present a major danger to many. It’s a responsibility of the police to protect us from danger, and they seem to have failed indefinitely in Old Town.
Now, the point of the laws is to clear the streets of dangerous drug addicts and dealers. Stoners, on the other hand, are not so dangerous. It appears that the major issues in Old Town are derived from those who are dealing heavy drugs and assaulting people, not the guy in dreadlocks playing guitar and puffing on a marijuana cigarette, doobie or whatever you kids call them nowadays.
The laws, if passed, should focus on taking care of removing dangerous and violent criminals from the area, not using the zones to discriminate based on class or race.
If legislators can create a clear law that will help prevent the pervasive drug use in Old Town/Chinatown, it would certainly please business owners, pedestrians and MAX riders alike.
Crack addicts shouldn’t be a problem, and the city needs to do something to fix the situation. Whether the re-instatement of new Drug Free Zones will fix the problem is yet to be known, but the fact is that the old zones did nothing of the sort. ?