Stabtown is shutting down. Not the City of Portland, of course; it will continue to stab along. But we’ll reset the stabtown.com clock no more. (We'll leave the site up for posterity.)
We launched Stabtown three years ago. In part it was something to amuse ourselves and all of the people who complained about the inordinate number of stabbings in town not to mention the inordinate number of homeless people walking around with machetes. It might not have been the accounting Portland wanted, but it was the accounting Portland needed.
The project had a serious purpose, too. We hoped to shine a satirical light on the homelessness crisis and city leaders’ utterly inept handling of it. Stabbings are the most brutal symptom of unmanaged camping. There are many other issues that are making our community terrible. The people living on the streets and the people living in the neighborhoods besieged by people living on the streets know just how awful things have become, even as homeless advocates and city leaders willfully ignore or even put a sunny spin on things.
To that end, we did more than reset the clock. We commented on policies, highlighted news and encouraged action.
Over the past three years, we reset the clock 188 times, wrote 1,500 tweets, endorsed in dozens of political races, produced a holiday shopping guide, sold Stabtown merch at cost – including a 2021 Stabtown Parks & Rec Calendar – and issued multiple press releases. Portland got worse anyway.
The city receives about 1,000 complaints per week about homeless camps, and that’s after a lot of people have given up on reporting problem camps because the city won’t do anything anyway.
Now, unless the homeless camp is in a wealthy neighborhood like Laurelhurst, the best neighbors get is, “City conducted trash mitigation and site assessments at multiple reported locations in North Portland."
When the Homelessness/Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program says it cleaned a camp these days, it doesn’t mean it restored an open space being ruined by campers to the public. It only stopped by to see if the campers wanted any trash picked up or needed a cup of sugar. The city has even set up Honey Buckets that bring a certain je ne sais, l' ordure to neighborhoods and attract even more campers. But again, not in the nice neighborhoods. It’s striking how closely the three-year stabbing map and the map of city-supplied toilets align.
Lazy analysts and scapegoating politicos blame the downward spiral on the pandemic. Things were trending down even before anyone had heard of COVID-19. For more than five years, the number of homeless has increased. So have the crimes, environmental damage, and harm to the city’s character and quality of life.
Yet in 2020, the city and county exploited the pandemic as an easy excuse to do even less – which turned out to be surprisingly and dismayingly possible. They stopped sweeping camps out of fear that the coronavirus was going to spread like mad among the homeless. On the contrary, it turns out that the COVID-19 infection rates among the homeless are lower than the general population. It’s certainly not because they are wearing masks.
Enough. We won't be the conscience of a stabby city any longer.
In 2020 there were 67 stabbing, a 10% increase just two years before. Those are just confirmed stabbings. We’re confident that police don't report to the public every stabbing that they encounter. We’re told this by insiders, and we see it when the news reports on a confirmed stabbing that police responded to, but the official police channels never announced. It’s telling that the most common line in police press releases about stabbings these days is “The PIO is not responding to the scene.” Why bother when it’s just another commonplace stabbing?
The stabbiest day of the week last year was Wednesday. The stabbiest month was October, which set a record for most stabbings in a month with 12. And as usual, most stabbers were homeless men who stabbed at night.
Heat map of Portland Stabbings 2018-20
Stabbings shouldn’t be common. Homelessness shouldn’t be normal. Trash in every public space, parks made too dangerous to visit by campers, graffiti on every surface and visitors afraid to visit downtown shouldn’t’ be just the way things are in Portland. But that's just the way things are. We’ve suggested solutions to curb the deleterious effects of homelessness, but city leaders lack the intestinal fortitude to make bold changes.
Not so long ago, Portland was the hip beacon for the nation. A progressive outpost with a booming economy, the place people wanted to live. Now it is a wasteland.
Shootings aren’t stabbings
A lot of people asked us this year why we didn’t operate a shootings clock. The city has experienced record gunfire on its streets. Surely that’s more important than mere stabbings.
To that, we reply, someone should start that clock, but not us. It’s too easy to grow numb to the seemingly daily reports of shootings. Reset the shootings clock!
Shootings emerge from different social problems. If you have access to a gun, you’re better off than the sorts of people who resort to stabbing. We’re not suggesting that gang members and other criminals who open fire on public streets don’t have challenges or that they are any less important or significant than the challenges faced by the homeless. Many shootings in Portland have roots in historic racism, income inequality and systemic biases. That’s not to say those are an excuse, but they are part of an explanation. Nevertheless, when you pull the trigger, that’s a choice you make, and you must live with the consequences.
When one turns to a knife or rusty screwdriver for violence, it comes from a different kind of desperation. You likely can’t afford a gun. The homeless walk around with machetes not because they willfully eschew firearms but because they can get one for $5.99 at Harbor Freight. Most stabbings are committed by people so far marginalized that sticking a blade in someone is either a final hopeless act or done with total disregard for their humanity. Mental health issues might be at play, so might substance use disorders. These are people who push the bounds of who qualifies as a Kantian rational autonomous being and make a strong case for having opted out of the categorical imperative.
So we’re done with it. Three people founded Stabtown in 2017. Two of us work in political circles, and the third was no stranger. One lost interest a year ago. One always lived in Vancouver and faded during pandemic isolation. It’s harder to get fired up when you aren’t driving downtown and seeing the shit show daily.
The third will leave Stabtown in a few weeks, headed not just away from Portland but out of Oregon entirely. A community where car windows are smashed in driveways just to steal a gym bag full of sweaty clothes, where any bike not triply locked winds up in a chop shop and, where no neighborhood street is safe for children to walk and no yard or park safe to play unattended is not where the last of Stabtown’s founders wants to raise a family. Portland loses a small business and professional spouse as they leave for a less-stabby place far away.
A city that doesn’t respect itself doesn’t deserve our respect, and it doesn’t deserve yours.
Good night, and good luck, stabbers. You’re going to need it.
2020 stabbings summary
There were 67 confirmed stabbings in 2020, the most in a year since we began keeping track in 2018.
Stabtown averaged 1.3 stabbings per week – a stabbing about every five days.
As always, the greatest concentration of stabbings was in the downtown core. Not coincidentally, this area is overrun with homeless.
Stabtown saw significant stabbing growth in far North Portland, especially near homeless camps in Kenton and St. Johns.
After stabbings decreased in the inner east side in 2019, they rebounded in 2020.
The Stabtown interactive map allows you to compare stabbing locations 2018-20.
There were eight double stabbings!
There were five days with multiple stabbing incidents.
The seven stabbings in June occurred on only three days: Jun. 14 (2), June 16 (3) and June 30 (2)
October 2020 was the stabbiest month in the past three years with 12.
Stabbers were overwhelmingly male and homeless.