It's been almost two years since Portland State University police officers shot and killed Jason Washington, a Black man, on campus.
Amid protests nationwide in support of Black lives and against police brutality, hundreds stood in support of the Washington family Friday in their yearslong call to disarm PSU’s police.
“We’re here not only for Jason, but for every single person who’s ever endured police violence and who will in the future,” said Washington’s widow, Michelle. “We’re here for every family that’s been torn apart and silenced in this process, and we need to stand together to say enough is enough. We will not let this happen again.”
One by one, Washington’s family, members of PSU faculty, alumni, and the Portland African American Leadership Forum stood on the steps of the campus public safety office and addressed the ramifications of a 2014 decision to arm campus officers.
PSU assistant professor of social work Miranda Mosier connected the video of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd to Washington’s death outside a Portland bar.
“Eight minutes and 46 seconds — everyone knows the significance of this number. What about fewer than 30 seconds?” said Mosier. “That’s how long it took between the arrival of CPSO officers at the Cheerful Tortoise and the shooting of Jason Washington.”
Video of Floyd’s death in police custody have renewed the call for an end to police brutality and a white supremacy culture that has permeated law enforcement.
Portland is in the middle of its second week of nightly protests, a scene happening in cities big and small. Last week Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced an end to school resource officers on campus in three school districts. A petition is circulating in Beaverton asking school district officials to do the same.
“This moment is not just about George Floyd, but about all of those we lost over the years to a national apparatus of unaccountable police violence,” Washington’s daughter Kayla said. “I thank you for reinvigorating the fight.”
PSU students, faculty and alumni have made several demands of university leaders, including an end to armed officers on campus, funding for police alternatives, and a permanent memorial on campus to Washington.
“History is opening a door for you, and it’s opening it wide,” Mosier said. “This is the time for you to listen to your community and this is the time for you to walk through that door.”
In a statement, Portland State officials said they support the Black Lives Matter movement and respect the rights of the PSU community to protest on campus.
“We also understand why current events have stirred strong feelings about armed campus public safety officers in the wake of the tragic death of Mr. Jason Washington two years ago,” the statement said.
President Stephen Percy is expected to present his plans for campus safety at a Board of Trustees meeting next week. Attendees from Friday’s rally will likely contribute their public comments.
“We’re paying thousands of dollars to go to this school, and none of us want campus cops. Our money goes towards the people on the board who work for us,” said Elana Goldman, a graduating senior at PSU.
“It is their job to listen to us, we’re demanding justice.”
PSU president Stephen Percy presented a new campus safety plan late last year that retains armed officers while adding safety positions for unarmed students.
The rally also presented an opportunity to bring up other race-related issues at PSU.
Chair of PSU’s Black studies department Ethan Johnson contrasted a lack of support for the university’s School of Gender, Race, and Nations with the university’s tendency to plaster its marketing materials with Black students without actually supporting those students.
“Anti-Black violence is Portland State University putting Black people on the front page of the website almost every day and claiming PSU is the most racially diverse university in Oregon, while 10 Black faculty and administrators left PSU last year and Black students at PSU have the lowest graduation rate,” Johnson said.
He also called out the overwhelmingly white faculty at the university and the treatment professors of color have experienced from their white colleagues.
PSU issued a statement last week inviting everyone in the school community to watch a conversation between Percy and the school's incoming vice president for global diversity and inclusion, and share ideas about achieving racial equity and justice at PSU.
A student identifying herself as Andrea F. said she took an introduction to Black studies class her first year at PSU with a Black professor no longer at PSU. She went to Friday’s rally to protest the university’s treatment of Black people, including her professor. And she sees this moment as one ripe for systemic change, starting with campus police officers.
“Everyone is getting it right now, now is the time to get rid of them,” Andrea said. “I don’t see a better time.”