Portland gang land: Shootings on the rise

Portland gang land: Shootings on the rise »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. -- If it has seemed like there have been quite a few shootings in Portland in the past few weeks, that might not be a stretch.

There have been eight shootings in Portland since July 4. They stretch from North Portland parks to deep Southeast Portland neighborhoods. Police are looking as to whether all eight shootings are gang-related.

The latest shooting took place late Wednesday night at a Southeast Portland gentlemen's club.

One mother has taken notice of all the shootings. She said that from her perspective, gang activity has been on the rise for awhile. Dianna Wilcox's expertise doesn't come from thick academic books. Nor does it come from a college education on gang violence. She was educated on the streets of hard knocks and is working on her figurative PhD right now as a mother raising a son in the heart of Portland's gang land.

The two frequently hear gun shots and sometimes are even caught in the crossfire of clashes between gang members or skirmishes between gangs and police. The 32-year-old watched it all go down Tuesday when Portland Gang Task Force members chased down a 17-year-old boy who had a gun and fired a live round and a bean bag at the boy.

"I heard gunshots," she said. "That's all I heard -- just pap-pap -- and you saw him kind of stumble and then he just kept going."

Wilcox said she knows the teenage boy and says he is similar to hundreds, if not thousands, of young Portlanders.

"He's a tough kid, a good kid, a nice kid, but he's had a rough life. A lot of kids in Portland have had that rough life," she said "That boy, like so many others, basically grew up on the streets. His father left him as a toddler and his mom wasn't far behind moving out of state and leaving her son behind. The only family he has had since is his gang."

Wilcox said gangs pull teens in and serve as a surrogate family.

"They are your protection and if you don't have anybody else, sometimes that's the only way to go," she said.

The tension lately has been between two major gangs known nationally -- the Crips and the Bloods. Police said it's been a Portland showdown for quite a long time.

"The Crips and Bloods are the oldest gangs in Portland," said Portland Police Sgt. Pete Simpson. "They have been going at it for four decades."

Portland gang expert John Canda said police probably do not know exactly how many gang members there are because they can only count those who commit crimes and then go through a screening process. He estimated there are at least 5,000 gang members in Portland and can't say that Wilcox's estimate of more than 10,000 is wrong. Both Simpson and Wilcox agree on something else, as well. They think prevention starts at home with open dialogs between parents and kids. That hits home for Wilcox.

"I've talked to him about drugs," she said, referring to her son. "I've talked to him about gangs and I have talked to him about peer pressure and not doing what the crowd wants you to do."

Canda said new gangs are forming every day and that economic conditions are likely causing most of the upswing in gang activity.