The Reality Portland Does Not Want to See
Everything modern Portland did led up to the horrific, predictable murder of Rachael Abraham
I published a big feature today, “A Murder in Portland: How bail reform has enabled crime and chaos,” in Washington Examiner Magazine. I’ll be glad if you read this harrowing and sorrowful story. As a companion piece, I have written the following essay for you, to show how Portland found itself abetting the murder of a mother in front of her children.
In 2019 I wrote an essay called "Good Luck, Portland." I was looking at a city I'd moved to in 2004 and trying to understand when it veered from a hopeful, growing metropolis to a place riven with internecine squabbles and what seemed to me a fatal decay, a decay that turned out to be more opportunistic and fast-moving than I'd anticipated.
The speed makes sense. Portland's ascension in the new American century was fueled by energetic idealistic people, who dreamed of turning a place known for not much more than Bill Walton, salmon and lumber into a modern utopia. Which they did, creating, as I would write in "Good Luck...", "a good friction, some of it generated by mostly young, many-from-California transplants ready to get arm deep in the region’s raw materials, to make vodka and bacon and bee balm and axes. I joked back then they’d make their own water if they could."
I might mention here that when I first moved to Portland and was registering my daughter at the local public high school, I accidentally parked in someone's driveway. When we returned, there was a note on the windshield saying my California license plate gave away what an entitled moron I was, and why didn't I head back down south and leave Portland to the real Oregonians?
My husband told me that when he grew up in Portland, you never met anyone who wasn't from Oregon. So there was that friction, too, between the old and the new. Portland in 2005 was attracting more college-educated, out-of-state people between the ages of 25 and 39 than most cities in the country, with predictable results: home prices rose, competition for jobs became fierce. Tempers began to fray, people began to feel abandoned. After the local alt-weekly published a 2007 piece I wrote called, “There Goes the Neighborhood: Race, Real Estate and Gentrification on My Block,” an online commenter suggested one way to solve the housing shortage was to take transplants like me to a local park and hang them.
The comment showed the tension beneath the surface, tension that for nearly a decade fueled change, fueled growth, fueled hope. The restaurant scene exploded, a downtown warehouse district transformed into a tony shopping-and-condo destination, and a campaign rally for Obama in 2008 drew a record crowd of 80,000. In 2011, Portland got its own spoof comedy series, Portlandia, which popularized the phrase, "Portland is where young people go to retire." As I would write in "Good Luck, Portland":
"People loved this show! Which could be very funny, if not increasingly to Portland’s chattering classes, who’d wearied of the outside attention (sample headline: “Sorry, NYT, We’re Just Not That Into You”) and wanted it understood that while parody was all well and good, Portland was in fact very serious in its commitment to tolerance and diversity and doing things in eco-friendly ways, like installing bike lanes, lots and lots of bike lanes, which would help Portland evolve into a uniquely new kind of American city, patterned not after Seattle, serial fellator of big tech, or God forbid anyplace in California, but more in the mold of a European city. I recall hearing Amsterdam mentioned a lot."
This was the same year, according to my lights, that Portland's star-turn on the national stage came to an end. Portland had taken up space in the national imagination, and it was now some other city's turn, maybe Nashville.
I cannot assess what portion of the population was content to get on with life, had not given two figs about what if anything the limelight had bestowed. But I can speak to the portion that did not seem content to watch that identity sunset, young people who'd imagined that a Portlandia lifestyle as "the D.J.-fashion-designing-knitting-coffeemaker" (as one of my husband's employees characterized herself) was sustainable. I'd watched dozens of these employees, all of them under 30, become increasingly restive. They believed in the promise of Portland but felt they hadn't really partaken. Whose fault was this? When was their time to shine, what with rising rents and a suspicion that they were underappreciated? And now the specter of Donald Trump as president? I remember a group of baristas gathered in our kitchen to watch a debate between Hillary Clinton and Trump, the one where he followed her around the stage like a shark, and how appalled they were, and how they claimed to be frightened.
Being frightened together, when there is little actual threat, is a thing most humans are attracted to. Think: scary movies and ghost stories. Fear can also be stoked; you can blow on its embers; you can sermonize by firelight; you can mesmerize people ready to be mesmerized.
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