More than 100 times each year, Portland police label someone a “criminal gang affiliate,” The Oregonian reports. Without a conviction, without an arrest, police can add a flag in their database, putting the person on what amounts to a secret suspects list. The Oregonian/OregonLive obtained a modified version of the controversial gang list, minus the names, along with letters appealing designations going back to 2012. The Portland Police Bureau tried to keep the records from being released until a reporter appealed to the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office. The data make possible the first independent look at gang designations in Portland since a federal lawsuit forced the city to enact restrictions on the practice two decades ago.
Critics charge that police use the list to increase surveillance of young men of color based mostly on the social networks they were born into. They say close monitoring of any teenager is likely to turn up some kind of bad behavior, and that disproportionate monitoring of black teens helps ensure they are prosecuted criminally at high rates. Of the 359 “criminal gang affiliates” flagged in Portland’s database as of August, 81 percent were part of a racial or ethnic minority. Sixty-four percent were black, compared with just 7.5 percent of the city’s population who are black or black and some other race. C. J. Robbins of Black Male Achievement, an organization that has been working to make changes to city policy on gang labels, said he had suspected African Americans were overrepresented. “It’s shocking,” he said of the data.