Guess who's coming to dinner
I noticed elsewhere in the blogosphere this week that some of the residents of the Buckman neighborhood in southeast Portland were being called on the carpet for having the nerve to question whether they'd still be safe with 500 or so refugees from New Orleans living on cots at Washington High School for an extended period.
This criticism seemed really unfair to me, for several reasons. First, there has been lots of trouble, including rape, at the Houston Astrodome, where other Katrina victims have been housed. Second, the Buckman neighborhood always gets society's problems brought within its boundaries for "treatment," and then when the ribbon-cutting ceremonies are over and the novelty wears off, the politicians forget their promises regarding security. Third, I've never been so scared on any streets anywhere as I was in downtown New Orleans -- and the knowledgeable locals told me to be even more wary than I was when I first got there. If the punks who menaced me in broad daylight in the French Quarter are coming to Buckman, then the folks down there have every right to be concerned.
Now from Salt Lake City, another evacuee resettlement site, comes a story that confirms that the Buckman neighbors are justified in asking their un-PC questions. Some of the new Utah neighbors have, in their pasts, committed major, violent crimes: "seven murders, six sexual crimes, numerous armed robberies, a few batteries of police officers, and one kidnapping."
You put people with those kinds of records a block away from St. Francis Park, with nowhere to go and nothing to do for months on end, and you are asking for trouble. For evacuees and neighbors alike.
Don't get me wrong, bringing evacuees here is the absolute right thing to do. They all deserve sympathy, respect, compassion, dignity, help. Most of the hundreds whom Portland takes in will be model citizens, and many of those with crimes in their past will not repeat their misdeeds here.
But some will. No one seriously believes that everybody in that crowded gym is going to be a cuddly Fats Domino figure, eating Mayor Potter's gumbo and singing "We Are the World" all day and night. So let's do this right. Mr. Mayor, after they take your picture kissing the babies, please keep enough cops on the scene, just to be on the safe side.
UPDATE, 9/9, 12:29 a.m.: I just learned that some members of Portland's African-American community have taken great umbrage at the security questions being raised, and some angry members of that community spoke at a sometimes-tense Buckman neighborhood meeting Thursday night.
If the mayor's going to "bring us all together," as he has promised to do, he's going to have to help us all walk a tightrope here. African-Americans are outraged right now, and rightly so. But the folks down in Buckman, who spend their summers chasing drug dealers around on their own because there aren't enough cops, are justifiably worried that this move is very experimental, and it carries some risks for them. Both "sides" are making valid points, and both feel aggrieved. But their grievances are not with each other. It's a sad, sad day when the folks in northeast Portland and the folks in southeast Portland are fighting with each other when their real, mutual nemeses are elsewhere, like in the White House. But ain't that America, 2005.
Although I'm going to catch holy heck from some readers about this post after the sun comes up in the morning, I'm standing by it. I'm not trying to fan the flames unnecessarily, but for everybody's sake, this project cannot be left to the kind of policing that's responsible for the horrible summer nights we had downtown this year. Please, Mayor Potter, work some magic.