A federal officer stands in front of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse during a Black Lives Matter protest on Friday, July 24, 2020, in Portland, Oregon. Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo

Protests close to home—and campus

PSU responds to protests blocks away from campus

Blocks away from where Portland passed 50 days of nightly protests, Portland State responded to the presence of federal officers downtown, stating the unrest has yet to reach campus. 


PSU released a statement July 22, written by Chuck Knepfle, vice president of enrollment management, and accompanied by a video with Willie Halliburton, the chief of the Campus Public Safety Office (CPSO). They assured students no protest-related incidents have occurred on campus since the arrival of federal officers to Portland’s downtown area. The Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse, the center of the clashes between federal officers and protesters, is less than 10 blocks from campus. 


“The national media coverage of the downtown Portland protests outside the federal justice center and Trump administration response…has raised questions and concerns whether the recent clashes have impacted Portland State’s campus,” Knepfle stated. “The short answer is: No.”


The day prior, PSU President Stephen Percy released an open letter to U.S. Attorney Billy Williams, backing Oregon officials who have called for the federal troops to leave.


“To be clear: We neither seek nor need federal law enforcement assistance,” Percy stated. “Portland did not seek this federal intervention and the result appears to be more violence, not less.”


Federal law enforcement officers, deployed by the Trump administration, first arrived in Portland over the weekend of July 4. Protests, and clashes between protestors and police officers, began to escalate a week later, and have erupted nightly since. Out of the protests, Federal officers were found to be using unmarked vans to detain protesters, shot and severely injured a protestor by using impact munitions, and broke the hand of a veteran who attempted to talk to officers. 


Despite PSU’s proximity to the protest, there is very little chance that the protests might come to PSU, according to Halliburton. 


“We don’t foresee any federal officers on our campus due to the fact that there are no federal buildings up here,” Halliburton said. “Their concentration has been on the two federal buildings on Southwest 3rd street, and there’s nothing of that nature on PSU’s campus, so we don’t anticipate any activity from the federal government or federal police on our campus.”


According to Halliburton, CPSO has not received any calls regarding the protests. 


While PSU has seen no federal officers or intervention, in the last 50 days of protests calling for police reform, PSU has had its own microcosm of familiar protests. The demands of the DisarmPSU movement have expanded to defunding CPSO and moving those resources elsewhere, but the protests on campus have remained entirely peaceful. 


Protesters marched from the Urban Center and down Broadway on June 12, and on June 29, held a second march remembering Jason Washington, who was shot and killed by CPSO officers two years prior. 


Since the most recent Disarm PSU protests, CPSO has yet to make new changes. 


“Right now, we’re listening,” Halliburton said. “We’re hearing everything that people have to say and their feelings about the situation. The president’s office is taking this very seriously as well, so we’re in the stage right now where we’re gathering information, and we’re going to go on from there.” 


While the most tense protests and clashes with the Portland Police Bureau and federal officers lie off-campus, federal officers have shown no signs of leaving. According to The Washington Post, up to 150 more officers may arrive in Portland to surround the federal courthouse—while PSU is left untouched. 


“I want us to be able to regain the trust of our community,” Halliburton said. “We’re [going to do] what we can to be a part of this community, to be a part of the solution to the problems our community faces.”