For years I’ve sung Portland’s praises to my friends and family in the Seattle area and beyond. I’ve described the open-mindedness, the individuality and the charisma of the city and its residents. I’ve recalled peaceful Sunday afternoons spent sipping craft beer on the rooftop patio at 10 Barrel Brewing Co., people watching at the Saturday Market, and enjoying relaxing strolls through the charming Nob Hill neighborhood and Northwest 23rd Street.
I’ve come south to watch the Blazers play at the Rose Garden; to ride the Willamette Shore Trolley from Lake Oswego to the Southwest Portland Waterfront District (my kids love the Aerial Tram to Oregon Health & Science University); to watch people fish and swim at George Rogers Park; to dine at the flagship Old Spaghetti Factory. I’ve even stood in line for a big pink box of novelty doughnuts at you-know-where.
But my love affair has come to an abrupt end.
Downtown Portland has turned into a free-for-all with a Wild West mentality, a breeding ground for extremism, an open forum for anyone with a strong opinion to openly express themselves without much regard for the impact on the majority of moderates who populate and visit the city.
It seems to me that every time I visit, I’m challenged to navigate through a downtown that appears to be waging war against itself. Whether it’s a demonstration by the Proud Boys or a counter-demonstration by Antifa, an unruly Pride Festival that closed off access to the train station (we nearly missed our ride home) or a frightening late night walk through Old Town (think John Carpenter’s “Escape from New York”), one gets the sense that the city essentially handed the keys to the kingdom over to the people and has given them free rein to do as they wish whenever or wherever they please.
Portland has a homeless and substance-abuse crisis — I get it. Seattle has the same thing, as does just about every major metropolitan area in our country. But that’s no excuse for turning a blind eye to the damage being done.
I’m not sure I understand the modus operandi here. I’m all for free speech, but when and where does accountability play a factor in terms of the level of attention given to what’s happening? Where are the police to enforce the basic laws of a civilized society? Are citizens being asked to manage these kinds of things themselves?
A journalist (Andy Ngo) was attacked by Antifa during one of their recent counter-protests, and he’s not the only one who’s been victimized by the escalating tension between the Proud Boys on the extreme right and Antifa on the extreme left. So what are Portland leaders going to do about it? Are they going to wait until civilians are murdered as a result of these culture wars before the city steps up and addresses the chaos?
If Portland is looking to draw attention to itself, it’s doing a fairly good job, though I’m not sure it’s necessarily the kind of attention any city wants.
My wife has often complained of feeling unsafe in Portland; I’ve always defended the city and rejected her anxieties. With what I’ve seen lately, I don’t think she’s that far off base.
My son loves riding the Amtrak from King Street to Union Station. Unfortunately, he won’t have the opportunity to do that again until Portland begins to clean up the mess that it has become.