The Portland Set to Emerge as the Next Great American City is Dead by Its Own Hand. What Now?
"Peace through violence," the activists would say, a maxim that struck me as not much different than handing someone a turd and calling it a sausage.
There are grim statistics from Portland 2023. The murder rate quadrupled in five years. Drug overdoses doubled between 2019 and 2022, with the state ranking second in the nation for opioid addiction and last in drug treatment. Robberies were up 50% in 2022 alone, and after having guns pulled on their baristas multiple times, a hipster downtown coffee shop closed in April, telling the public, “We cannot continue operation here as we cannot ensure the safety of our team and customers."
I'd driven past the shop six months earlier, had seen people at an outdoor table trying to politely cohabit with a ranting woman two tables over, a woman who had what were likely her worldly possessions spilling from garbage bags around her feet. There are more than 700 homeless encampments in Portland these days, and what I initially took to be civic landscaping, large boulders placed under freeway overpasses and along curbs, turned out to be bulwarks against people pitching tents and creating human detritus. As a friend said, "Now they just poop on your lawn instead."
Nothing comes out of the blue, and after George Floyd was killed, Portland looked at its own and the nation's identitarian failings and decided the bill was due. Because recognizable targets are easiest, the city would defund the police, would vilify the police, would be okay with Portland's underemployed young men carving KILL ALL PIGS into the city's steel bridges. The idea was that this would relieve some pressure, relieve some guilt, would set the city on a right and better footing. It did not work out this way. With fewer cops than when the city had been half its size, citizens grew afraid. "They should have been there," the antifa kid told me in August 2020, after a supposed-BLM supporter kicked a bystander in the head. When I suggested the cops were too busy chasing his crew around every night, the kid shook his head. "They still should have been there," he said.
He seemed to me of more heart than the people running Portland. He knew something was dangerously out of whack, if not what the fix was. What of the people at City Hall, and a bulk of citizens, and a gullible or perhaps mendacious news media? Why were they so intent on watching the city burn? Did they see framing disorder and destruction as heroic as a necessary, even honorable step in building the ideal American city? Were Portland's upheavals, as I sometimes saw them, about play-acting for the cameras, about looking brave rather than being brave, about burning off some of the impatience and impotence built up since Trump declared as a nominee in 2015?