Tuesday, June 06, 2006

It's a Family Affair

Crimes will often focus on certain neighborhoods in Portland. Sometimes they will cluster in families. Northeast Portland and North Portland are both neighborhoods where certain types of crime flourish. Gang activity is sometimes pretty intense in these two areas.

We have already seen how violent crime and drug addiction have taken a huge toll on the Mandley family, in my earlier posting A Tragic Story Gets Weird. The extended family that unites Perlia Bell, 43, and her cousin Areba Strickland, 50, has six murder victims since 1979. Four of these murders are still unsolved, although in some cases police believe they know who committed the crime. Three other members of the Bell-Strickland family are in jail for violent crimes.

Bell and Strickland have reacted to the violence and pain in their lives by activating their community against violence and working to end the G-code (for Gangsta) of silence that keeps the killers of their family members from facing justice. Bell has organized an annual September 11 march in memory of her daughter Asia Bell who was killed by gunfire outside her home. She also organizes anti-violence events through her church.

Strickland is active in Project Hope, a youth employment program, and is the founder of the Isaiah Strickland Foundation against Violence, named for her son who was gunned down in Northeast Portland. They are both active in Families Affected by Violence.

Less than a week before Bell’s Stop the Violence Worship Service, two of her cousins Willie Bell and Wilando Bell became the latest victims of violence in her family. On February 7, 2005, Willie Bell, 24, and his girlfriend were robbed at gunpoint allegedly by Domenicke Sanders who had just robbed a nearby convenience store.

Wilando came to his brother’s aid and was shot to death. Willie was wounded. Fortunately the G-code didn’t play into this case and Sanders was arrested a few days later in Vancouver, WA. Sander’s is awaiting trial on murder charges.

Reba Strickland’s son Isaiah, 17, was shot and killed near the corner of NE Fremont and 7th on the night on November 2, 2003. Reba knows her son wasn’t perfect. According to a questionnaire he filled out shortly before his death, Isaiah had begun using alcohol and marijuana at the age of 14 and had been arrested twice for truancy before dropping out of school. She also knows that the argument that led to Isaiah’s death may have begun with his hitting a young woman at a party.

Reba Strickland also knows that her son did not deserve to be brutally shot down in the street. She knows that his killer must be brought to justice, but he never will be until witnesses come forward. Reba knows that a dozen of her son’s lifelong friends stood on a corner a block away from her son when he was shot. Some admitted at first that they knew the shooter, now none of them know who did it.

Police believe that Donnie Crawford Jr., 20, and Charles Crockett, 21, are responsible for Strickland’s shooting. Crawford is the brother of the woman that Strickland reportedly hit. You can read more about Crockett here and here. Crockett has been pretty good at intimidating witnesses and enforcing the G-code.

Asia Bell, 23, Perlia’s daughter, was shot to death and her husband Tyrone James, 26, was blinded in a shooting at their home in North Portland on November 20, 2002. They were celebrating Tyrone’s 26th birthday and stepped onto their front porch for a cigarette, when 17 shots were fired.

Asia was killed instantly. Tyrone was badly wounded in the face and both of his eyes were damaged. A friend who was visiting was also slightly wounded in the shooting. Asia and Tyrone, parents of five children, were working hard to get away from the drug abuse and violence that has plagued their families. They were both employed in the health care industry and had recently purchased their first home.

The North Mississippi neighborhood, where they lived, is one of the most vibrant and interesting neighborhoods in the city. It is also a neighborhood that has been plagued by gun violence and drug dealing. It is a neighborhood of beautiful old homes that are still affordable, because of the problems in the area. The police have no suspects or leads in this case and it is one of the featured cases of Portland’s Cold Case unit.

On January 19, 1996 Perlia Bell’s brother, Kern McClure, 34, was beaten and stomped to death in a house near NE Fremont and Rodney. Not only is this murder still unsolved. It seems to have been forgotten. There is very little information available about this crime.

Perlia herself had a personal brush with violence in 1993. At the time she had been addicted to cocaine for more than a decade and was in an abusive relationship with another drug addict, Andre Favre. Neighbors of Favre and Bell said that the couple kept to themselves, but seemed to fight all the time. Many believed that Favre was beating Bell on a regular basis.

On August 21, 1993 during a fight with Favre, Bell stabbed him in the chest, killing him. She went to jail for eighteen months, kicked her addiction and began to organize for the end of violence in her community.

Wilbert Menafee Sr., 48, Perlia’s uncle, was shot and killed in another unsolved murder on April 7, 1979. Menafee’s son, Wilbert Jr., 27, was shot to death on November 29, 1986. Menafee Jr.’s death was one of Portland’s earliest gang-related shootings. Carl Lee Rucker was convicted of his killing and was paroled in 1998.

Wew. Murder takes a terrible toll on the people it leaves behind. In some way the victims themselves are the lucky ones. They don’t have to deal with the fear, guilt, anxiety, loss and depression that plague the survivors. Perlia Bell, Reba Strickland and Tyrone James have taken an active part in changing the community that has damaged their family so badly. They are an example to all of us.

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