UPDATE (Sept. 24, 5:43 p.m. PT) — Around 20 students and activists linked arms and set up tents in front of the Portland State University campus security building Monday as part of a protest aimed at disarming school police officers.
“We are not leaving,” the students chanted. “Disarm PSU.”
By late afternoon, protesters had set up two tents and had posted a whiteboard with 14 rules for people camping at the site, such as “no alcohol or drugs” and “do not talk to cops.”
Protest organizer Olivia Pace said the “Disarm PSU” camp would stay in place until three demands were met: They want Portland State police disarmed, a memorial erected to the man killed by campus police this summer and the two officers involved in the shooting to lose their jobs.
Jason Washington, a U.S. Navy veteran, postal worker and father of three, was shot and killed in June by Portland State University campus police officers.
Washington had been trying to break up a drunken fight outside the Cheerful Tortoise bar when he was killed. Shortly before the fight, Washington had taken a handgun away from a friend in an attempt to prevent the man from getting in trouble, according to witness statements released by police. The gun fell from Washington’s side during the brawl, and campus officers shot and killed Washington after he picked it back up.
The student occupation began with a march of around 200 students, alumni and community members across campus Monday, the first day of fall classes at PSU.
“Say his name,” a young woman shouted into a megaphone.
“Jason Washington,” the crowd answered.
Protesters paid tribute to Washington by observing two minutes of silence. His wife, Michelle, stood on the sidewalk on the spot where he died and shared memories of her husband.
“His motto was ‘God, family, friends, country,’ and he lived his life that way until the end,” she said. “He was the best man that I have ever known, and I will miss him every second of my life until I meet him again in eternity.”
The protest camp at the campus security building doesn’t block the entrance. Protesters were careful at one point to move one of the tents, so they couldn’t be accused of preventing students from accessing a campus service. But Pace said the tents, signs and demonstrators are in place to send a message to students who might come to the building.
“We just want to plant ourselves here and say, ‘You will not be able to operate at your office, just coming in and out, having people think that you are good police officers and that you’re safe and that this is a place they can come if they feel unsafe,’” Pace said. ”… They are murderers, and justice must be served.”
A Multnomah County grand jury ruled against criminal charges for the officers in the shooting. Portland State administrators have hired an independent consulting firm to review campus safety policies.
University officials issued a brief statement in response to the protest, emphasizing that PSU was looking to “study all options to protect the campus and make recommendations,” in its reviews.
“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,” said director of PSU media and public relations, Ken Ma.
Washington’s brother, Andre Washington, said he wholeheartedly supports the student occupation.
“This will never end, until these guys,” he pointed to a campus safety officer, “are unarmed.”