Where the Portland State campus has been nearly barren since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of students, faculty, alumni and community members came, echoing a familiar demand: Disarm PSU.
Hundreds of protesters gathered on June 12 to march for disarming PSU. The march went from the Urban Plaza to the front steps of the Campus Public Safety Office, taking a route down 5th Avenue, across College Street and up Broadway—a total of 10 blocks. Advocates from PSU and across Portland gave speeches in front of the public safety office, calling for the disarmament of CPSO and stronger efforts by the PSU administration to address systematic racism on campus.
“We come to this current moment when we’re reigniting these claims,” said Ben Anderson-Nathe, a professor in the Child, Youth and Family Studies program. “One because it’s the month in which we’re coming up on the anniversary of Jason Washington’s killing, again, and two, we’re really recognizing the cultural moment in which the rest of the country seems to be kind of waking up, in some ways, to the consequences of a militarized police force, and specifically the consequences to Black and brown people.”
“We’re starting to see that calls for disarmament are being taken up and being taken seriously, and are actually being enacted in ways that I don’t think the Board of Trustees did, or, to be fair to them, could really have imagined.”
CPSO hasn’t always been armed, not until a resolution the Board of Trustees first began considering in 2014 to hire sworn officers, which has faced opposition since its inception. In 2018, the movement to disarm PSU was reignited after the death of Jason Washington, who was shot and killed by CPSO officers on June 29, 2018. Now, Disarm PSU has new demands in a new age of police reform.
“They promised us oversight. They promised us a police that would uphold the ethos of PSU,” said Miranda Mosier, one of the demonstration’s speakers. “They promised us police that would somehow magically operate outside the paradigm of policing, which a lot of us know is about upholding property rights and policing and controlling the bodies of Black and brown people, and far too often, ending their lives.”
Protesters marched with a total of seven demands for the university that not only included disarming CPSO, but also removing them from the PSU CARE team, extending the campus-wide furloughs to CPSO, discontinuing the policing of the houseless on campus and creating a permanent memorial to Jason Washington.
Both Washington’s widow, Michelle Washington, and his daughter, Kayla Washington, were among the speakers at the demonstration.
“PSU doesn’t want you to know my father, a black man, a veteran, a peacemaker was killed because PSU made a horrific decision to legally arm their security against the wishes of students, faculty and staff,” Kayla Washington said. “Say their name. That plea reminds us that this moment is not just about George Floyd, but about all those who we have lost over the years to a national apparatus of unaccountable police violence.”
“This is bigger than PSU, bigger than our community, or even this country. This movement right now is across the world,” Michelle Washington said. “We’re here not only for Jason, but for every single person who’s ever endured police violence or will ever in the future. We are here for every family that has been torn apart and silenced in this process, and we need to stand together as a community, and say enough is enough. We will not let this happen again.”
Following the protest, PSU President Stephen Percy released a statement promising to address equity and systemic racism.
“I am listening. I am reading your messages and I watched today’s protest. We continue to grieve the loss of Jason Washington across our community,” he stated. “I don’t have all the answers. But I am determined that we will rise to meet this moment, and through our collective work, make PSU known as a place where equity is reality.”
Days after the protest, at the Board of Trustees meeting on June 18, advocates took another opportunity—an hour of the meeting dedicated to public comment—to continue speaking out against armed CPSO officers. Comments largely echoed the demands of the demonstration, as well as addressing the day’s vote on raising tuition, but this time, the comments reached the BOT directly.
Among the speakers during public comment was Erica Bestpitch, who formerly served on the BOT from 2013–19.
“In 2014, I voted in favor of a police force for PSU,” Bestpitch said. “I put my trust in campus leadership as they promised to create a police office that is different [from the Portland Police Bureau], that would respond better to campus needs, [and] that would be a real caring part of our community. I have not seen anything close to that. As a result I no longer believe in police reform. We need to dismantle the police and law enforcement model at PSU and begin determining what will take its place.”
For many commenters—who consisted of students, staff, alumni and community members—disarming CPSO was no longer a sufficient solution. Advocates both cited the demands of the demonstration, and brought demands of their own.
“It’s not radical or irresponsible to disarm, defund, and disband campus police,” said Dan Harrell, an adjunct professor in the school of social work. “It feels like an insult [to] thousands of people making this demand, the Black community leaders organizing for this and the family of Jason Washington, to suggest that it’s too much too soon. Now is the time to disarm, defund [and] disband CPSO, because black lives matter.”