Jason Washington’s memorial is entering the final stages of the planning process, as the Jason Washington Art Memorial Committee sends out requests for proposals this month to local artists to commission the project. For the Washington family, this means being a step closer to a concrete memorialization of a father and husband.
Portland State President Stephen Percy formed the memorial committee in Jan. 2021, nearly three years after PSU officers shot Jason Washington 17 times, of which nine gunshots resulted in his death. The delay in the creation of the committee was in part due to waiting for the finalization of legal processes between the Washington family and the university, combined with a shuffling of university presidents.
Kayla Washington, daughter and representative for the Washington family on the memorial committee, said that she anticipates seeing the final product.
“They really care about the family,” Kayla Washington said. “I was shocked and speechless—it gets to have my dad’s name on it.”
An active response
During this time, the activist coalition Disarm PSU pushed for more information regarding exactly what reparations were being made for Jason Washington’s family. The coalition consists of students and staff members who joined together in 2014 as a response to PSU arming the Campus Public Safety Office (CPSO). Katie Cagle, a behavioral health project assistant at PSU and member of Disarm PSU, said that concern rose around what little was shared with the public during this time.
“As staff members, we feel a sense of responsibility for someone who wasn’t even a student,” Cagle said. “Even with the university time curve, it’s really disrespectful. I’m really grateful to Percy for his commitment to racial justice—but also, it’s the bare minimum.”
Disarm PSU staff members pushed heavily for a reversal of the 2014 decision to arm campus police officers after Jason Washington’s death. In August 2020, the campus safety office announced that campus police patrols would no longer be armed—however, because of unmet requirements which would allow unarmed patrols, implementation was delayed. Today, while the CPSO website states that “all our officers are unarmed on patrols,” Cagle said students have still reported seeing armed officers walking around campus.
“Currently, safety for students isn’t consistent,” Cagle said. “Requiring a certain number of unarmed officers on shift for a policy to work is not a policy. Right now, it’s just day-to-day.”
The art memorial committee consists of a variety of members, including a student representative; PSU faculty and staff; Kayla Washington, the oldest daughter in the Washington family; and her attorney Deena Sarjitharan.
Dominique Chen, vice president of ASPSU, represented the student body as a member of the committee. She noted that through the process she learned a lot from the committee.
“Really the only thing that everybody on this committee wants is that everyone is memorialized in the rightest way,” Chen said. “It’s such a privilege to work with people who have put so much time and effort and thought into this. The most you could ask for from a committee that has a specific purpose, not only to make an impactful public art on campus, but also something that deals with such a sensitive impactful issue.”
Sajitharan said that the work by the committee and PSU has been incredible to be a part of. “Everyone’s busy and has a full time job,” she said. “It just means that much more that people are doing this outside of working hours. Doing it right and doing it right by the Washington family.”
The project consists of two memorials. The first one is a copper plaque with the details of Jason Washington’s shooting written on it. It will be on SW College Street at the scene of the shooting, where Washington family members created and are maintaining a colorful, personal memorial on a nearby tree.
“It’s very to the point of what happened,” Kayla Washington said. “It’ll be interesting to see how many people stop and read it. I like that it’s just blunt and to the point, and then we’ll have another piece that is more a celebration of his life.”
The second memorial will be located on campus, for which artist proposals are going out this month to commission the project. The committee is hoping to have the copper plaque up by April, and have chosen an artist for the second memorial by September.
“I’m very thankful that we have this opportunity,” Kayla Washington said. “The whole family is very happy and excited. I’m looking forward to it being the finished project, and getting together with students so that they know what all is happening.”
On Feb. 21, ASPSU is holding an open house event in celebration of the life and legacy of Jason Washington. It will run from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., starting in the Smith Memorial Union room 296/7, also known as Parkway North, and ending with a march across campus. Pizza, Jason Washington’s favorite food, will be provided, and any and all students and community members are encouraged to join.