I live and work in Vancouver, Washington, just across the mighty Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. As TTAG reported earlier today, Portland Mayor Sam Adams is flirting with the idea of establishing “gun free” zones. Felons convicted of gun crimes would be prohibited from living, working or even traveling through these “GFZs.” This is not the first time my neighbors to the south have experimented with so-called ‘exclusion orders.’ From 1992 until 2007, Portland designated entire commercial areas and thoroughfares drug free zones (DFZs) or prostitution free zones (PFZs.) The police could issue a one-year ‘exclusion order’ to anyone arrested for drug offenses in a DFZ, or engaging in or soliciting prostitution in a PFZ . . .
The police, acting on their own authority without a judge’s writ or a jury’s verdict, could exclude an individual from broad areas of private property and public streets. They could arrest them for trespassing if they returned.
Due process of law? Who needs it? The police handed out exclusion orders to anyone arrested for specified crimes. Without a hearing. Without a conviction . Judges and juries being so, well, inefficient.
Equal protection under the law? Why bother? African-Americans made up only seven percent of Portland’s population. They received 65 percent of all exclusion orders. Draw you own conclusions on that score (or n0t).
Freedom of assembly? Freedom of travel? Freedom of association? Nope. If your church, doctor or job was located in the exclusion zones, you had to appeal to cops. Not a judge. The police. If they agreed that you had ‘legitimate business’ in the area, they might have let you travel through or into a DFX or PFZ. This time.
What if there were a miles-long exclusion zone between your home and your job? Your church? Your doctor? Your parents? An excluded citizen had to take the long way home or risk [another] arrest.
Then-Mayor Tom Potter conceded that the zones were a failure. After a long debate among skeptical city commissioners, Portland’s Mayor let the zones expire in September of 2007. Sam Adams was one of the then-skeptical commissioners. My, how times change.
Sam Adams is now the Mayor of Portland, and a politically weak one at that. And no wonder: he was elected after a campaign vow that his relationship with a teenage legislative intern was not improper. Adams’s lie was quickly exposed; the former intern told all and moved on to a part-time career as a nude model.
It was too late for solidly Democratic Portland to do anything about it. After surviving a few halfhearted recall attempts, Adams may in fact be a first-term lame duck. Reporters and critics have repeatedly asked him why he lied about the now-admitted relationship. In politics, if you can’t answer the question, change the subject.
Sam Adams would like to talk about something that does not involve sex, lies, or 17 year-olds. His proposal for ‘Gun Free Zones’ is an attempt to give him that option. The idea may distract voters until after the next election. But they will not reduce crime or violence in his city.
The exclusion conditions that Mayor Adams is proposing might have some effect in reducing crime if they were part of the conditions of probation for convicted offenders. That would require actual supervision of offenders, which would require money the city of Portland does not have. Mayor Adams knows this.
If an offender is dangerous enough that their physical freedom must be curtailed, they should be in jail or confined to home. The idea that they can be “confined” to geographic areas like native Americans on a reservation is morally repugnant. In any case, decisions which restrict a person’s liberty cannot be made without due process of law, and cannot be made by police alone.
Whether they seek to protect us from drugs or guns or streetwalkers, exclusion zones are a historical mistake Portland need not repeat.