Once again the drug-free zones are being modified. There are currently four drug-free zones (DFZs) in Portland: Downtown/OldTown, the inner Eastside, Alberta and Beech. The zones in North-Northeast are in the process of expanding to include the neighborhoods of: Alameda, Arbor Lodge, Boise, Concordia, Eliot, Humbolt, Irvington, King, Overlook, Sabin, Vernon and Woodlawn. If arrested for a drug offense in a drug-free zone, you can be forced to agree to keep out of that part of town or any other DFZ for 90 days as a condition of pre-trial release (see PPR #12). This is basically a punishment for people suspected of, but who have not been convicted of, a crime. Those convicted are automatically excluded from the DFZs. Once a person is excluded from a drug-free zone, they cannot enter a DFZ for any reason unless they obtain a variance. Variances are issued at the discretion of the police and can be obtained at local police precincts, which coincidentally are in the drug-free zones. Without a variance, people can be charged with criminal trespassing. Prosecuting these trespassing cases potentially costs the state thousands of dollars and fills up jails, only to release people back into the drug-free zones.

The last expansion of the drug-free zones which created the Alberta and Beech areas was in 1997 (see PPR #11). According to an article in the March 3 Portland Observer, some of the proposed drug-free zones may be reduced due in part to community opposition. Irvington and Concordia recently voted against the drug-free zones. Even the communities voting in favor of the zones are not unanimous. The Sabin Community Association voted 33 to 22 in favor of the drug-free zones. One Sabin board member who is against the zones said "those voting did not represent the demographics of the community and do not regularly attend meetings." Some of the Northeast residents are concerned that the zones target people of color and the lower class. Attorney Chris Larson asked the Observer: "Are we willing to give up our freedom to deal with this threat?"

We believe Drug-free zones violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution because people who live in drug-free neighborhoods have the law applied to them differently than those who don't, and therefore do not have equal protection of the law. Not only is different treatment and protection for the privileged unconstitutional, it also enhances the inequality that leads to distrust and resentment towards the police. The only way to have an effective system is to have the people's trust in the system, and the only way to do that is to apply the same laws to everyone.

Either the privileged communities should have to give up some of their rights and we apply drug- free zones to all of Portland (which even Assistant D.A. Jim Hayden has admitted would be unconstitutional) or we should restore disadvantaged communities their equal rights and get rid of drug-free zones entirely.

To find out more on the DFZs
call Assistant District Attorney Jim Hayden at 248-3162.

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