There’s a new occupation in town. As of Monday afternoon, around two dozen Portland State University (PSU) students and activists are occupying the steps outside PSU’s Campus Public Safety Office (CPSO), demanding PSU disarms its campus police and fire the campus officers who fatally shot a man outside a campus bar over the summer.
The new occupation began on the first day of PSU’s fall term, after more than 300 students, activists, and community members gathered in the south Park Blocks outside PSU’s Smith Memorial Student Union to protest PSU’s first fatal campus police shooting. Activists and leaders, including Portland city council candidate Jo Ann Hardesty and Portland NAACP president Rev. E. D. Mondainé, spoke about the politics around arming PSU’s campus police—a decision made by PSU's Board of Trustees in 2015.
Activists blamed the board for the death of 45-year-old Jason Washington, the man who was shot and killed while attempting to break up a bar fight near campus on June 29. CPSO officers Shawn McKenzie and James Dewey shot Washington with nine bullets after a handgun fell out of a holster attached to his hip. A Multnomah County grand jury cleared both officers of criminal charges earlier this month.
Many of today's speakers tied the officers' actions to social ills, including Portland’s historical racism, stigma against veterans, police militarization, and allegations of preferential treatment by officers toward well-dressed and/or politically conservative people.
Demonstrators eventually marched through the Park Blocks to the Cheerful Tortoise, the bar outside which Washington was shot. Washington’s daughter spoke later in the demonstration, crying as she thanked the crowd for their support and explaining that she tried to—but could not—excuse officers who overpower and kill Black men without just cause.
Protest attendees echoed one overarching point expressed by today's speakers: PSU community members of color don’t feel safe on campus. Bre Tarver, a PSU music major who also works as a college advocate mentor, said she attended on-campus training sessions, and would pass Cheerful Tortoise before and after Washington’s killing. “It’s a strange feeling,” she said, “As someone with young and older siblings, it’s a fear that gets amplified, like it really could happen to me, or people in my life.”
According to Disarm PSU’s Olivia Pace and Alyssa Pariah, activists plan on camping out on the CPSO's front steps until their group’s demands are met. Those demands are as follows:
1. PSU immediately disarms all of their campus public safety officers
2. PSU fires officers Shawn McKenzie and James Dewey, the two officers who murdered Jason Washington
3. PSU creates a permanent memorial for Jason Washington, and allow this process to be led by the Washington family
Tonight, Disarm PSU members will hold a candlelight vigil at the newly-occupied CPSO to honor Washington's memory.