City News

Northeast parents press city to act on reducing gun violence

Marlene Torres’ toddler hasn’t been the same since he saw an older child get shot.

Her boy, who’s almost 2, was at Bush’s Pasture Park the afternoon of March 7 when gunfire broke out, leaving one teen dead and two others wounded.

The Northgate resident said in an interview she’s frustrated about the lack of help in Salem for people and families affected by gun violence. Five times, she and her kids have been caught in the crossfire of shootings near them, she said.

“He hears loud noises and he freaks out,” Torres said of her young son. “What resources are we getting? I get that there’s not enough. I get that there’s a lot going on in society, but that’s what I’m dealing with personally.”

Torres was among about 100 people who gathered Friday evening, April 19, at Chemeketa Community College to discuss a rise in gun violence in Salem disproportionately affecting northeast neighborhoods in the city.

Many attending pressed city leaders for solutions and said they wanted action now, even as Mayor Chris Hoy and Police Chief Trevor Womack said they intend to take the rest of the year to come up with their plan.

Salemites attended a community forum on gun violence reduction held in Spanish at Chemeketa Community College on Friday, April 19, 2024. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Echoing comments from others, Mari Romero said she was frustrated and asked Hoy how people could put the discussion into practice immediately, “so when we go home tonight, we feel that there’s a plan?” She and others said they were eager to help.

Romero’s question drew sustained applause.

“The answer lies in our community, not with the city, not with the police, not with just the residents but with us all coming together and having conversations, and that doesn’t happen in one night,” Hoy said. “The fact is that none of us have the resources needed to solve this problem alone…We don’t want to tell the community what the solution is, we want to develop it together.”

Hoy and Womack encouraged people to fill out cards which included space for people to list organizations they work with and how they’re able to help.

“I wish I had a solution tonight, but I don’t,” Hoy said. “But I feel really confident that together we can come up with something.”

The meeting, held in Spanish, was the second in a series Womack and Hoy have organized this year following the November release of a city report outlining a rise in gun violence over the past five years. The record includes four fatal and 16 non-fatal shootings in 2022 within Salem city limits.

Through Hoy’s Community Gun Violence Reduction Initiative, consultant Ben McBride will facilitate meetings and help guide the strategy. McBride has been involved in successful violence reduction initiatives in other cities.

A kick off meeting March 6 drew calls for more information to be shared in Spanish. Maricela Lagos with the Salem-Keizer Coalition for Equality and Amador Aguilar of Enlace Cross-Cultural Community Development worked with the city to organize Friday’s event. 

Angela Hedrick, the police department’s public information officer, who is bilingual, facilitated the discussion.

The event began with a presentation of data from Womack, delivered in halting Spanish.

“As your police chief I want to tell you that before everything else, your safety and wellbeing is important to me,” he said. 

He told residents the police agency is identifying community resources that can help theh police and the city, saying the department is limited in what it can do alone. Reducing shootings is the goal.

“We need to stay focused on this common goal and make this the main measure of our success. If something’s not working to reduce shootings we need to look at it again and try something new,” he said.

Womack stressed that most shooting suspects and victims are young men, 18 to 34, though the share of shootings involving minors has increased in recent years. 

About half of victims and suspects are Latino, compared with 30% of Salem’s population.

Womack said that’s important not because his department wants to racially profile Latinos, but because understanding the demographics of shooters and victims will guide solutions.

“We don’t want to speak negatively about any group of people. We only want to identify those who are at risk so we can look at ways and resources to reduce that risk,” he said.

In small group discussions, many people spoke about being afraid to take their children to parks in their neighborhoods or losing their sense of security after witnessing shootings near their homes.

Ceci Ascencio, who lives near Northgate Park and runs a childcare business in her home, said she’s not personally afraid because she doesn’t get involved in trouble.

But she pressed police to do more responding to calls from residents about people smoking marijuana in the park or suspicious behavior.

Womack said his officers rarely have the capacity to do so.

Trevor Womack presents data about shootings in northeast Salem art a community forum on Friday, April 19, 2024. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Residents suggested Salem needs more help for kids coming out of juvenile detention so they don’t get in further trouble, more youth programs, bilingual counselors and more bullying prevention in schools so issues don’t escalate into violence. Many spoke about the need for better collaboration with the school district and communication with parents.

Womack said the department has the resources now to identify  the people at highest risk of becoming involved in shootings. A small program to do that could attract a grant or other money if it’s successful, he said.

Hoy said he’s talked with Levi Herrera-Lopez, the leader of nonprofit Mano a Mano, about establishing a community center in northeast Salem.

Much of the area along Northeast Portland Road is an urban renewal area, which means the city has money that could help with purchasing a site. Hoy said the city wouldn’t be able to run such a facility, however.

Correction: This article misspelled the last name of Angela Hedrick, Salem police department public information officer. Salem Reporter apologizes for the error.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.