A sound drug policy may have saved James

FORUM •ÊPrioritizing treatment over police enforcement would result in fewer deaths

If you listen to what people are saying in Northeast Portland right now, you will hear of many ways that the police can improve their relationship with the community. There's no short supply of opinions in this part of town about what the police need to do Ñ or become.

But we also need to be thinking and talking about the impact of public policies and funding priorities that favor law enforcement over mental health and drug treatment.

In fact, over the past two decades, the trend has favored law enforcement strategies over comprehensive community-based strategies to address drug addiction, alcoholism, poverty and mental illness. This trend has resulted in minority overrepresentation in the justice system, and in a distorted 'us versus them' view of minority relations and police.

We need to recognize that these are the result of the choice we made as a community to favor law enforcement strategies to confront our community's drug addiction and mental health issues.

Fortunately, we now have a vantage point from which to examine the impact of 20 years of drug policy on Portland's communities of color. The inequities are now obvious. We can no longer talk honestly about justice and race without talking about the impacts of the policies on communities of color.

We need to look at the impact of our policy choices and how they contribute to the environment in which Kendra James and Jose Santos Victor Mejia Poot were shot and killed. We need to think about the impact of our choices on our neighbors' civil and human rights.

The answers to the self-destructive drug and alcohol problems, and the crime associated with those behaviors, is community policing, crime prevention strategies, education, treatment and addressing risk factors such as poverty and inadequate housing.

But our current funding priorities and community policing strategies are back to relying too much on police, courts and jails. Couple that with the scarce resources for food and housing assistance, and the misery that is often at the root of drug abuse is only compounded.

This is the context within which we need to examine the tragic consequences of James' addictions. It is in the context of this community's failure to adequately address addiction and mental health that is the real tragedy; James is just one more in a growing list of avoidable deaths. It is in this context that we should be asking if this community's drug policy is compassionate and supportive of a person's civil and human rights.

Instead of blaming the police, instead of blaming the victim, we have to take personal responsibility for how public dollars are spent in this community.

Ultimately, it is up to all of us to work with our local leaders to commit the necessary resources, political will and creative imagination that will strengthen peace and justice, protect the rights of all and assist in the redevelopment of our economic, social and cultural life as a peaceful multiethnic community.

Paul Dinberg is a city of Portland crime prevention specialist currently assigned to inner Northeast Portland. He earned a master's degree in public administration from the University of Oregon and lives in Northeast Portland.