On July 25, 2020, Elmer Yarborough received a frightening call from his sister: two of his nephews were attacked in broad daylight as they left a bar in Portland, Oregon.
Driving as fast as he could, when he arrived at the scene, a police officer informed him one of his nephews Tyrell Penney, had died, and the other one had been taken to the emergency center, reported the Western Journal.
“My sister, Tyrell’s mom, was on the phone; I just said, ‘He’s gone.’ And I just heard the most horrific scream that you could ever imagine,” Yarborough said.
When Penney, a 27-year-old man from Sacramento, California, was killed, protests erupted in liberal Portland, with demonstrators protesting in the streets every night to push for budget cuts.
Portland, Oregon’s biggest city, was having its deadliest year in over 25 years.
In response to the protests, the mayor and City Council cut many police services from the program. A specialist unit tasked with reducing firearm abuse had been dissolved just a month before Penney was shot.
“Without a doubt, I think it is a possibility that my nephew could still be alive if [the Gun Violence Reduction Team] was not dissolved,” said Yarborough, a crisis response volunteer for Portland police.
In 2020, 40 victims were killed by gunshots in Portland, which was more than the total number of murders in 2019.
This year’s victims continued to increase, with over 150 shootings so far, including 45 injured and 12 murdered.
Portland police said “people will die” if the team that works on eliminating weapons from violent criminals is disbanded.
In 2010, the city of Stockton, California, started dissolving and cutting funding for anti-gun violence police forces, then gun homicides in the city hit new peaks in 2011 and 2012.
According to police reports, murders decreased dramatically after Stockton reactivated the police teams.
However, others contend that such changes are unlikely to have an impact on firearms crime.
Mayor Ted Wheeler said in January that “I believe if the Gun Violence Reduction Team were around today, we would still see a substantial, if not identical, increase in shootings in Portland.”
Last June, Wheeler, who is also the police commissioner, announced that the team would be disbanded and that its 34 officers would be transferred to patrol. He characterized it as a chance to “reimagine” enforcement, and he stripped away $7 million of police finances.
Last month, looking for answers, police formed a team of 15 officers and six investigators dedicated to investigating gun crime.
The unit is known as the “CIA” of the police department, according to Yarborough. Because of their intimate knowledge of the area, they were often able to prevent shootings before the incidents occurred.