PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Lionel Irving stands at the corner of Northeast Dekum and MLK in Portland, the corner where 25-year-old Danea Williams lost her life, an innocent victim of Portland’s cancer of gun violence.
Williams, who wanted to be a paramedic was just sitting in a car at that spot when she was shot to death.
“She definitely wasn’t the target,” Irving told KOIN 6 News.
As a young man, he killed a 14-year-old boy, spent time in prison and then turned his life around. A gang veteran, he now helps others turn their lives around through the group he founded, Love Is Stronger.
“I come from a childhood where my parents were drug addicts, so that put me in a situation where I was very vulnerable,” he said.
Now he is constantly reminding young people about the rules of the street: Don’t put yourself in harm’s way.
“You want to back into places, right? You want to make sure you have an exit out here,” he said. “Don’t want to wait around. You don’t want to hang around. Just basic stuff, man. You straight yup and you just want to know what’s going on on the streets.”
Irving has seen his share of violence on the streets and during his time in prison. What’s happening now in Portland, he said, is heartbreaking.
“This trauma, man, that’s vibrating these young kids because we as a community waited too long to get in front of it,” he said. “Every time a shooting happens somebody dies. That’s a potential for a new shooter to be born, most likely a 95% chance that new shooters are born at the scene.”
Social media is helping fuel the violence. Gang members seeking retaliation look and respond to online posts and comments with bullets. Irving said any small thing can set it in motion.
“Just be argument in the car or Instagram post or something like that, where you know that or you could just be affiliated you could just be in a picture with somebody. So that’s what makes it scary — and the amount of artillery that is delivered.”
The bottom line: Lionel Irving said we need more officers on the streets of Portland.
“Like, who don’t want no more police? If something happened to me, I’m going to call the police,” he told KOIN 6 News. “I definitely want to see police do their job. That’s the biggest thing. I’m cheering police to do their job.”
But the job includes accountability. Irving is part of a citizen advisory group watching over PPB’s newly formed Focused Intervention Team, FIT.
“I’m really excited about the energy they have. They got some good cops in there and they work in there about the community and thats what needs to happen, is we need to be all about the community.”
How do you stop the cycle of gun violence? You offer education, alternatives, opportunities. The City of Portland is allocating millions of dollars to programs for at-risk youth. Irving said more needs to be done. Gun violence is generational and it comes down to choices.
“It’s going to be a whole 360 thing and that, that scares people. Because they’ll say, ‘Well, why do I want to fund a criminal? You know why would I give money for that?'” Irving said. “But the benefit is if you resource a guy and help him become a citizen, then you don’t have to worry about about his kids becoming somebody that’s shooting guns that might eventually eventually hit one of your kids straight as a book.”