Oregon Public Broadcasting

About one hundred people gathered Thursday night for a forum on gang violence at Jefferson High School in Northeast Portland. The event comes after several recent gang incidents and shootings in the community. The audience members and speakers included a mix of agency representatives, police, local residents, faith leaders, parents and students. One speaker asked how many people in the audience had been affected by gang violence.  More than half of the people in the crowd raised their hands.

Eighteen year old Ryan McKinley is a senior at Grant High School. He says it's easy to recognize gang members at school.

"Well, they're just talking about it, throwing up signs, saying all the gang sayings or  wearing the colors , stuff like that. That's kind of how you know.  I kind of just tell them how I feel, tell them that it's not helping anybody, it's just making the problem worse. Shooting somebody--that's not going to do anything except hurt somebody else. That's somebody else's kid," says McKinley.

Community members discussed the need to address problems that cause young people to join gangs, like lack of economic opportunities or education. But some called for a critical look at which gang prevention methods are currently effective.

Royal Harris is a street level outreach worker for Portland's Youth Violence Prevention Program. He says the community needs to think a little differently.

"Looking around this room I see a lot of the people that I always see. I think the biggest thing the community in here needs to do is to become aggressively uncomfortable--engaging those people who usually don't get engaged, empowering the marginalized, using all these collective voices to give us a real a vibrant tapestry of what's going on. And I think that will really be the key," says Harris.

Forum organizers ended the event by offering community members opportunities to sign up for gang prevention efforts at various agencies and organizations.

This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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