Portland State Students Protest Campus Police Shooting of Jason Washington
CW: gun violence, police violence
Portland State University students and local activists have gathered in front of the Portland State University (PSU) Campus Public Safety Office (CPSU) as part of a protest aimed at disarming school police officers. Holding signs with slogans such as “Disarm PSU” and “Black Lives Matter,” the protestors have set up half-a-dozen tents and several tables on the outside the CPSU building since last Monday.
The protests are in part a response to a fatal shooting involving campus police in June. Jason Washington, a U.S. postal worker and father of three, was shot and killed by PSU campus police officers on June 29. According to police reports, Washington was attempting to break up a fight in front of the Cheerful Tortoise bar near closing time when Officers James Dewey and Shawn McKenzie arrived at the scene. Washington was holding onto his friend’s handgun, and during the altercation, the gun dropped to the ground. When Washington went to pick up the gun, the officers opened fire and fired a combined total of 17 shots. Washington was shot 9 times.
The Multnomah County Grand Jury this month declined to indict Officers Dewey and McKenzie in the fatal shooting of Washington and released a statement saying that the officers’ actions were “a lawful act of self-defense and/or defense of a third person under Oregon law.”
The student occupation began with a march of around 200 students, alumni and community members on September 24, the first day of fall classes at PSU. The protestors have since set up camp in front of the CPSU building.
While the current student occupation was prompted by the shooting in June, Camilo Abreu, Legislative Affairs Director of the PSU Student Union, explained that the protestors blame a 2015 decision by the PSU Board of Trustees to arm campus police. According to Abreu, the decision was met with pushback by both students and faculty, whose concerns were “totally ignored” by the university administration.
“When they made the decision [to arm campus police], we told them [over and over again] that the first person who was going to get shot was a person of color,” Abreu said. “And that is exactly what happened with Jason Washington.”
Abreu explained that the protestors will not leave until their three demands are met by the university administration. The demands are the following: 1) fully disarm PSU campus police; 2) erect a permanent memorial to Washington on the PSU campus; and 3) fire Dewey and McKenzie, the two officers involved in the shooting of Washington.
“We want to demonstrate that the [campus authorities] can no longer ignore the concerns of marginalized students and community members,” Abreu said. “There just isn’t any accountability … the institution has a responsibility to listen to our demands.”
However, Aberu claims that university officials have purposely avoided engaging with the student protesters. “The administration don’t want to have this conversation,” Abreu said. “They’d rather ignore us and walk past us … They treat us like the enemy.”
PSU officials released a brief statement in response to the protests, which explains that the concerns over armed campus police will be addressed in a Board of Trustees meeting in October. “Jason Washington's death has had a profound impact on the Portland State community, and the university recognizes the right to participate in peaceful protest,” the statement read. “PSU has hired an independent security consulting firm to review campus safety policies and procedures, which will hold a series of public forums in the upcoming weeks on this issue to provide students, faculty, staff and the public opportunities to speak.”