A bizarre set of fliers distributed in some Portland, Ore., neighborhoods over the last month have threatened to name residents who receive government assistance, to the consternation of many community members and city officials.
“We don’t know if it’s a group of people doing it or what, and whether police will find them,” said Dana Haynes, spokesman for the Portland mayor's office. “But if it’s one wacko who’s running around with a staple gun, they probably won’t.”
The author of the messages has kept his or her identity secret, signing with the name “Artemis of the wildland,” the name of a Greek goddess.
“There are sixteen people in this neighborhood who vote and receive cash disability payments,” said fliers posted to doors across several neighborhoods in August. “The names of these people are being posted where they can be seen by taxpayers and the neighborhood can decide who is truly disabled.”
That flier added, “Benjamin Franklin said 'when the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.’ Some of us in the neighborhood wish to save this democracy and to stand in the way of those who would destroy it.”
The fliers drew the attention of police after several residents reported to city officials that they felt uncomfortable with the fliers. Police officials pointed out that state law bars intimidation against people with disabilities, though the fliers were not deemed overtly threatening.
Then, on Monday, “Artemis of the wildland” struck again.
“There are twenty-seven people in this neighborhood who vote and receive food stamps,” read the latest fliers, this time found in southeast Portland's Sunnyside neighborhood. “The names of these people are being posted where they can be seen by taxpayers and the neighborhood can decide who is truly in need of food.”
No names have apparently been posted, however.
“On the surface of it, I can’t find a crime there,” Oregon Police Dept. Sgt. Pete Simpson told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday. “It's probably not a crime, because there wasn’t any overt threat and they were being left on porches and/or telephone poles — which, realistically, we don’t enforce telephone stuff because we’d have to arrest concert promoters.”
Simpson added, “It appears to be somebody trying to stir up the neighborhood a little bit and get people upset.”
And that somebody has succeeded.
“I think it's messed up and an invasion of privacy that's really nobody's business,” one resident, Lauren Davidson, told KPTV of the fliers. Some Portland residents had previously described the wave of fliers about disability recipients to KPTV as “hateful,” “horrible” and “disheartening.”
“It takes a certain level of cowardice to target people in our community, but to target people with disabilities really pisses us off,” Haynes, the mayor’s spokesman, told the Los Angeles Times in a phone interview Tuesday.
Julie Yee, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Food and Nutrition Service, which handles food aid, added that the names of recipients are not considered public record. “No, that's private information,” she said. The Social Security Administration, which handles disability payments, notes on its website that records on living recipients are considered confidential without the recipient's written consent.
Haynes said that the city was not likely to devote police resources to try to catch the pamphleteer given that it's not clear a crime has been committed. But he agreed the food-stamp fliers were in poor taste.
“This one’s bad, it’s stupid, it’s besmirched the entire community a bit,” Haynes said. “That’s not what Portland’s about.”