On Sunday evening, dozens of people gathered at Southeast Division and 48th to pay respects to Noah Terry, a 22-year-old who was shot at that location on October 24th, 2020. According to local news reports, Terry loved “drifting”, a hobby that entails burning out the tires of a souped-up car as the driver spins around in a circle and onlookers revel in the display. At Sunday’s gathering, a bouquet of silver and black balloons floated overhead while the people below blocked the intersection so drifters could do their thing.
Also known as “sliding” or “sideshows”, the activity has grown steadily in Portland in recent months and years. There’s an entire community that has sprung up around them. Earlier this month a massive crowd took over the wide intersection of Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd and Columbia Blvd. A Willamette Week reporter was at the event and wrote, “Gas fumes clouded the sky and the smell of burnt rubber filled the air. At least 400 spectators looked on. Lines of cars backed up a quarter to a half-mile down all four streets waited for hours. Some spectators launched fireworks.”
These meet-ups usually happened in relatively empty, far-off industrial locations. But as they’ve started to happen closer-in, Portland city leaders have seen enough and want to put an end to them. This week, Portland City Council will consider a new ordinance that will make it against the law to participate in unpermitted “street takeovers”.
What do you think? Proposed tougher law to help address dangerous unpermitted street racing (watch video https://t.co/9ffCquMiVg) often involving high speed & pedestrian onlookers have grown in number and size across the City of Portland. https://t.co/1MlwbWCROV pic.twitter.com/TkoCdJfNf7
— Sam Adams PDX (@SamAdamsPDX) August 7, 2021
A tweet from Mayor Wheeler’s Director of Strategic Innovations, Sam Adams
According to council documents, the ordinance would “provide additional enforcement tools for Portland Police Bureau to reduce the incidents of dangerous street sliding events in the public right of way.” Specifically, the ordinance would create new infractions that come with fines of up to $500 and six months in prison for anyone who drives a car in one of these events or uses an object to block the street. If first offenders are caught, they’d be given the option of a diversion program. The ordinance would also allow police to tow vehicles without notice if their drivers are taking part in a street takeover event.
Back in March I shared concerns about how this dangerous cultural phenomenon might end up in a head-on collision with police. And here we are. Instead of finding non-enforcement alternatives, commissioners are set to consider a solution that could put these young, mostly Black and people of color, face-to-face with the PPB — an agency that has failed to build productive relationships with the community on a host of other fronts and has already nearly stopped responding to many issues and crimes because of what they say is a lack of funding and personnel.
Council documents say the city has gotten “significant community involvement” on the proposed ordinance and received feedback from, “… business stakeholders, district attorney, community organizations… public comment on social media, APANO [Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon], Latino Network, chambers of color, PPB advisory committees and community partners, and Office of Equity and Human Rights”. (We’ve reached out to the leader of APANO for comment but haven’t heard back yet.)
In March 2020, when the police chief of Detroit, Michigan was faced with the same issue, he worked with the community to find a vacant lot where they could drive and slide without as much danger to public safety — and more importantly — without attracting attention of gun-toting police officers.
Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell will present the ordinance at City Council on Wednesday (8/18) at 2:00 pm.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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