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Open-carry activists gather to patrol Molalla streets

Citizens express concern over what some call 'vigilantism'

CONNER WILLIAMS - Molalla citizens gathered Wednesday night at Long Park with plans to take back the community from drug dealers and criminals. More than a dozen Molalla residents, some of them armed, gathered Wednesday night to discuss and perform a community patrol service in light of the recent thefts around Molalla.

Part of the discussion to organize the meet, which started in the parking lot of a thrift store on Molalla Avenue, was the encouragement of the open-carrying of firearms, which received a large amount of criticism from locals in the community.

Molalla Police Chief Rod Lucich addressed the assembly, telling them that while he supports community watch efforts, he was a bit nervous about the decision to open-carry.

“It does take a community and law enforcement working together to be able to bring about positive results, and if the goal of the group is to be out and be a good set of eyes and help us out, then I’m all for that,” Lucich said.

“I’m very concerned about the open-carry situation, and while I do support the Second Amendment, not everybody’s motives are the same, and open-carry is telegraphing something.”

Lucich then noted that most people are not trained in the same way that law enforcement officials are, so they could be prone to make mistakes in tense situations.

“People might mean well, but say they confront someone and that person is antagonistic so they pull their gun on that person, and then the next thing you know is we get a call that there’s two people in plain clothes fighting over a gun, and don’t know who the good one is,” Lucich said.

Kenny Schoenfeld, a Molalla native, conveyed unease over the decision to open-carry, despite his support for gun use and the right to assemble.

“I just think the vigilantism mentality that a lot of people show on Molalla [NOW] comes off as sad and very unwelcoming to our community,” Schoenfeld said. “I don’t want Molalla in the news as another Trayvon Martin story where a kid gets harassed and it turns into a death.”

Brooke Sumpter, a Molalla resident, also voiced apprehension to the open-carry decision.

“Maybe the fact that they feel the need to flaunt their guns is more unnerving to people,” Sumpter said. “And more so when they are out looking for random people rather than having [a gun] for the safety it may bring in a life or death situation.”

Despite the outcry, the organizer of the event, long-time Molalla resident John Chenoweth, said that the goal of the organization was to “be out in the neighborhood with everybody so the community will see that somebody is actually wanting to be proactive.”

Chenoweth organized the meeting when he posted on a local Facebook forum Molalla NOW, saying the goal was a “clean up of the community,” and to “report unwanted persons,” which many on the community forum contend is an inappropriate remark. Molalla City Councilwoman Leota Childress sent out her own post on the forum expressing concern for the terminology used in the original meetup post.

“While this [event] is designed to stop criminal activity, the reference to unwanted persons makes me concerned,” Childress said in the post.

“Who among this group is going to judge who is wanted or unwanted? Will they not want your teenager who is walking around with a group of friends, all dressed in black hoodies?”

Childress continued and referred to the group as vigilantes.

“Will the young black guy look suspicious? Oh, and what about the group of Mexicans who are walking home from the basketball court at the library [?]”

(Image is Clickable Link) LEOTA CHILDRESS - Comments on the Facebook forums, 'Molalla Community United' and 'Molalla NOW.'

Chenoweth then noted that the objective is not vigilantism, but to help the police keep Molalla streets safe.

“We don’t have a very large police force, so the more eyes and ears we can have out on the streets to be able to see stuff and pass it on to the police department is what we want to do,” Chenoweth said.

“I just want to be an extra tool that the police can use for the community; I’m not trying to do their job, I just want to be able to help them fight this kind of stuff that’s going on in our town right now.”

Chenoweth then commented on the concern for his use of the phrase “unwanted persons” on the original post for the gathering by citing his work in the security industry, where he said they often use similar terminology to summarize a situation.

“When we’re doing up reports and stuff as we’re patrolling property, we’ll note that we found no suspicious persons or activity, or unwanted persons or activity,” Chenoweth said.

“So when I wrote the post, it’s just normal for me to write that; I didn’t realize that by using jargon, people would take it the wrong way.”

Chenoweth then clarified his definition of a suspicious person as someone that is actively committing a crime.

“Worst case scenario, we contact the police, give them a full description, and let them deal with it from there,” Chenoweth said. “It is not our job to chase or make any arrests, unless we see somebody in danger, then we will step in.”

Mike Corso has lived in Molalla for about four weeks. He turned out for the patrol to show support for what he calls a close-knit, friendly community. Corso said that he moved to Molalla from California to slow down a bit and to find a nice place to raise his kids.

"I wanted to be able to live in a place where I could get back to the way things were when I was a kid, where kids could go outside and you didn't have to have an eagle eye on them," Corso said. "In the first two days of being here, my wife and I fell in love with not only our neighbors, but also the feel of the town.

"In my opinion, there are things that you should stand up for, and having that kind of small town appeal where your kids can go outside and you don't have to worry about them is one of them," Corso said.

Corso then discussed his opinion on the encouragement of open-carrying during the patrol.

"One thing that's always kind of concerned me is, you know, coming from California, when you have a society where the majority of criminals know that it's not okay for a normal person to either be open carrying or have a concealed weapons permit, it's very easy for them to do what they want to do," Corso said.

"I think if open-carry was a little bit more accepted, it might lead to more tolerance of open-carry and maybe let some criminals know that there are people out there who are going to stand up for themselves, and then maybe the need for people to want to open-carry might diminish," Corso said. "The ability to protect my family, should I need to, is very, very important."

Chenoweth also noted that some people were uncomfortable with the presence of firearms, so he said that he wishes to organize future patrols in which there will be no guns present.

The group departed from the parking lot of the Family Thrift Center on their walk around town that went south on Molalla Avenue, down East 5th Street, looping back around on Mathias Road,

After Wednesday night’s patrol, Chenoweth again posted on the Facebook forum and said that the group covered about five miles and patrolled through “some of the areas that residents had concerns over,” and that they notified owners of several vehicles that they found with doors open.

Chenoweth has planned to organize a second patrol for the night of August 23 to also meet in the thrift store parking lot.

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