Neighbors march on 82nd Ave. protesting prostitution

Mayor Tom Potter outlined a plan to combat prostitution along the Avenue of Roses. So why did neighbors – 200 strong – take their concern about this problem to the streets? Find out right here …

Nearly 200 citizens from area neighborhoods take part in the “March to Reclaim 82nd Avenue”.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Since the Portland City Counsel allowed the Prostitution-free Zone ordinance to “sunset” a year ago – on September 30, 2007 – street-level prostitution has exploded along 82nd Avenue of Roses.

Because it seemed as if the City took no notice of the marked increase of illicit activities in neighborhoods from Parkrose south to Lents, several citizens’ groups have formed to draw attention to the problem.

Specifically, neighbors say, street-level prostitution draws customers from all over the metropolitan area who participate in illegal activities. Police officials confirm the activities don’t actually take place on the street itself, but instead, on the side streets within neighborhoods on either side of 82nd. Ave.

After a year of silence, Portland Mayor Tom Potter enunciated a plan to combat the problem on September 11. (Read about his announcement, the plan and neighbors’ responses, by CLICKING HERE.)

While some neighbors say they are encouraged to see that this problem is finally on City Hall’s radar, at least one group openly questioned the efficacy of Potter’s anti-prostitution proposal.

Laurie Depue prepares a sign that lets her feelings be known as she prepares for the march in 82nd Avenue of Roses.

Town Hall Summit draws hundreds
275 neighbors came to demonstrate their dedication to combating prostitution at a Town Hall Summit held at Vestal Elementary School on September 15.

(Read our coverage of the Town Hall Summit by CLICKING HERE.)

The Town Hall’s organizer, Dawn Rasmussen, Chair of the “Save NE 82nd Coalition”, said after the event that her organization hasn’t taken a position regarding Mayor Potter’s proposal. “We’re not saying its right or wrong; we’re willing to see what happens. It’s hard to speculate on how well it will work. How does one define ‘successful’ for a program dealing with such a complex issue?”

Fritz Hirsch, an outer East Portland resident and Montavilla in Action volunteer, tells a NewsChannel 8 reporter why he’s involved in march.

200 march protesting against prostitution – and Potter’s plan
Another group of neighbors called “Montavilla in Action” (MIA) organized what they called “The March to Reclaim 82nd Avenue”, which ran from SE Division Street north to E. Burnside on the morning of September 20.

“This march is a visible symbol from the neighbors,” explained Fritz Hirsch, an outer East Portland resident and MIA volunteer. “We simply find it unacceptable that a 82nd Avenue is being turned into a red-light district. It’s a multifaceted problem that demands a multifaceted approach.”

Asked about Mayor Potter’s announced plan, Hirsch said that he, and other MIA members, appreciate the work City leaders have done regarding the issue. “It’s refreshing to see them taking a significant, serious look at the problem. However, the plan they propose is a complex one. Our group posed several serious questions about it that, so far, have not been answered.”

Brian Wong, coordinator of their foot patrol and a Montavilla in Action volunteer musters the marchers in Portland Community College’s SE Center.

Wants safe neighborhood
Rallying the marchers in Portland Community College’s SE Center parking lot, another MIA volunteer, and coordinator of their Foot Patrol, Brian Wong, spoke with us.

“I want a safe neighborhood in which to raise my family,” Wong simply stated. “We don’t want good families leaving neighborhoods up and down 82nd Avenue. We’re putting pressure our city leaders to bring back the Prostitution-free Zone ordinance to help us reclaim our neighborhood.”

Wong says he’s concerned that the City’s plan to combat street-sex prostitution relies on complex procedures – but a Prostitution-free Zone is simple and effective.

Concerned about procedures and prosecution
“[Mayor Potter’s plan] relies on a complex set of procedures in which those engaging in prostitution are arrested, prosecuted, and, if found guilty, may only then be sanctioned,” Wong said. “One of our concerns is that the interest level in the District Attorney’s office for prosecuting prostitution-related cases is relatively low [as compared to other crimes]. The Prostitution-free Zone is a simple ordinance that makes it clear that prostitution is not welcome on our streets and in our neighborhoods.”

Multnomah County Commission candidate Mike Delman joins the march to lend his support.

More events planned
Liz Sullivan, a Montavilla in Action volunteer who publicly questioned Potter about his plan at his press conference, was also at Saturday’s march.

“We’re gathering on September 30 to commemorate and commiserate on the 1 year anniversary of Mayor Potter & the City Council’s abandonment of the Prostitution Free Zone (PFZ) ordinance,” Sullivan announced.

“We’ve been gathering petition signatures all summer long from concerned residents who have witnessed the deterioration of their neighborhoods since the abandonment of the highly effective PFZ ordinance, and who demand that the PFZ be reinstated as soon as possible – now, more than ever, after hearing the Mayor’s new proposal,” declared Sullivan. “Join us at Montavilla Park, in NE 82nd Avenue at NE Glisan Street at 11:00 am.”

Also this week, Rasmussen announced that the Save NE 82nd Coalition will present another Town Hall Summit on October 7 from 6:30 – 8:30 pm at Portland Community College’s Southeast Center. Featured speakers will include Jeri Williams from the City of Portland and Melissa Farly of Prostitution Research.

Instead of jeers and obscene gestures, the marchers are greeted with horn honks, friendly waves and the “OK” sign.

Advises against confronting suspected prostitutes
In a related story, about 10 p.m. – the evening of “The March to Reclaim 82nd Avenue” – two citizens reported seeing prostitutes working 82nd Avenue of Roses at SE Hawthorne Street.

According to police spokesman Officer Greg Pashley, the nature of the interaction between them was unclear – but it resulted in “Two alleged prostitutes approaching the car and spraying pepper spray at the car.”

East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs advises against directly confronting anyone doing any illegal activity. “Some of the people engaged in prostitution may have emotional problems, and may be under emotional pressure. They may lash out at people who try to interfere with them.

“If citizens see suspected prostitution activity, call and allow us to take care of it,” Crebs concluded.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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