A group of protesters belonging to Portland State University Student Union’s #DisarmPSU campaign announced an occupation of PSU’s Campus Public Safety Office on Sept. 24 to protest the fatal shooting of Jason Washington, a Portland man killed by campus police officers on June 29.
Organizers said they are calling for the immediate disarmament of PSU’s campus police, the construction of a permanent memorial for Washington to replace the one that was removed in August 2018 at the university’s request, and the firing of James Dewey and Shawn McKenzie, the two officers involved in the shooting. PSUSU organizer Olivia Pace said the occupiers will remain camped in front of CPSO until their demands are met.
“The point of this action is not like other occupations we’ve seen,” Pace said. “We are not shutting down this building. What we want to do is to say that any time you come to [CPSO], if you think you’re going to come here and feel safe or be protected, you’re not going to. You’re not safe on this campus…we don’t want people to be able to pass into the space without being reminded of that and without being reminded of Jason Washington.”
Organizers announced the occupation at the end of a rally beginning at noon in the PSU Park Blocks, featuring speeches from Washington’s family and friends, along with local activists and public figures including Portland NAACP chapter president E.D. Mondainé and Portland City Council candidate Jo Ann Hardesty.
Ralliers chanted “Disarm PSU,” and “PSU, blood on your hands,” as they marched, stopping at the location on SW College St. between SW 6th Ave. and SW Broadway where Washington was killed; then at the Academic and Student Recreation Center where PSU Board of Trustees meetings are held; and finally outside CPSO, where organizers announced their plans to occupy the outside of the building as Chief of Police and Public Safety Donnell Tanksley stood by with two other officers.
Recently released police body camera footage from the night of the shooting shows Washington attempting to break up a drunken fight between his friend Jeremy Wilkinson and another unidentified man. Amid the altercation, a voice can be heard shouting, “He’s got a gun.” Washington can be seen walking away from the scene as an officer shouts, “Drop the gun,” several times before firing.
Officers Dewey and McKenzie fired their weapons a total of 17 times, hitting Washington, who had a concealed carry permit, nine times. It is unclear whether Washington had the gun in his hand at the time he was shot.
Many rally participants discussed racism as a potential factor in Washington’s death. “Jason is dead today because he was a Black man picking up a weapon when police showed up,” Hardesty said. “Where is the outrage?”
Organizers said they blame Washington’s death on the Board of Trustees’ controversial 2014 decision to authorize the commission of an armed campus police force, which PSUSU has publicly opposed since 2015.
“The blood is not just on the hands of the officers, but on the hands of every single board member who voted this policy through,” Pace said. “It’s on the hands of our former president Wim Wiewel; it’s on the hands of our new president Rahmat Shoureshi, who has not done enough to clean up the mess that they’ve made; it is on the hands of every person and entity who had anything to do with this policy being pushed through. They can try to avoid that but the blood of Jason Washington is on their hands just as much as the officers who pulled the trigger on him.”
Since Monday, protesters have consistently occupied the front entrance of CPSO, distributing flyers, circulating a petition during the day and holding vigils at night.
“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,” university representatives stated in response to the protest. “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. That review will study all options to protect the campus and make recommendations to President Rahmat Shoureshi and the PSU Board of Trustees.”
In a press conference, Pace said occupiers have had limited contact with PSU officials, police and safety officers thus far.
“Our interactions with police have been minimal,” Pace said. “Friendly on their part, but our policy in this space is to not interact with the police on this campus extensively.”
At a Sept. 28 meeting, six members of Associated Students of PSU’s CPSO ad-hoc committee voted unanimously to officially endorse and support the protest.
“Civil rights didn’t happen because people were quiet and nice,” said Student Fee Committee Chair Donald Thompson III. “Jim Crow laws [and] slavery didn’t end because people were nice. It happened because people got angry, spoke loudly about injustice and took action…We can be a body that has power, that says these student organizers [and] the movement that they’re putting forward is what is necessary for the future.”
Pace said protest organizers are not willing to compromise with PSU officials on their demands.
“We feel like the administration is about to be at a tipping point where they have to crack under the pressure,” Pace said. “We feel like this is an escalation we need.”
Additional reporting by Chris May