By ANN MONTAGUE
SAY HIS NAME!
As the exploding energy of the mass movement for Black Lives and the protests against police violence grew in Portland, there was a vigil and march on June 29 at Portland State University (PSU) in downtown Portland. It was dedicated to the memory of Jason Washington, who had been shot and killed exactly two years before by two PSU Police officers.
Michelle Washington, Jason’s widow, spoke about her devastation, “Can anyone imagine what it is like to have your soulmate ripped away from you?” His daughter Kayla, the oldest of his three daughters, fought through tears as she told the crowd what PSU’s response to her father’s death meant to her. “PSU doesn’t want you to know my father, a Black man, a veteran, a peacemaker, was killed because PSU made a horrific decision to legally arm their security against the wishes of students, faculty and staff,” she said.
Students launched a new petition calling for PSU to disarm its police officers. This was the continuation of the militant Disarm PSU coalition which never wanted armed police on campus in the first place.
On August 13, Portland State University announced the PSU Police will no longer carry guns, starting in September of this year. In their university-wide email, they did not name Jason Washington or mention the over two years of demands from students, faculty, staff and the surrounding Portland community to Disarm PSU.
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503 represents the classified workers at all the state universities in Oregon, including the PSU Police. The three largest universities have police departments. Both Oregon State University and University of Oregon police have already left SEIU to join a police union.
In 2013, PSU set up a task force to discuss arming their police department. SEIU was represented, as it was their members – the PSU Police – who wanted to become sworn police officers and carry guns. The multi-racial student coalition Disarm PSU was formed. They tried working with the task force. There was a poll of students and faculty that showed most of them were opposed to arming PSU police.
Once it was clear that the task force was not going to discuss anything with those who opposed this move to arm the university cops, Disarm PSU moved to the streets. They started with monthly marches through campus. When SEIU bargained an agreement for arming the PSU Police, Disarm PSU ramped up their opposition with frequent marches and shutting down PSU Board meetings. Soon, even the president of the university could not speak in public without disruption by chants of “Disarm PSU, Disarm PSU” and shouts echoing in the room of “Somebody is going to be killed, somebody is going to be killed.”
That is exactly what happened two years ago. Many witnesses testified that Jason Washington was trying to break up a fight outside a bar on the edge of campus. He had a license to carry a concealed weapon and that night he was holding a gun for a friend. The gun was in a holster but may have fallen to the ground during the fight. When the police arrived someone pointed at Jason and said, “He has a gun.” Both officers immediately shot Jason. They shot 17 times in 30 seconds. There were nine bullets in his body. He was shot in the chest, stomach, back and thigh. A grand jury ruled the deadly shooting was “justified.” Both policemen still have their jobs.
At the July 20 Strike For Black Lives, SEIU 503 held a virtual noon meeting for members to discuss the Black Lives Matter movement. Over 120 members attended. The question was asked if the PSU Police are finally going to leave SEIU. The president of the local stated, “We have asked the question and they are leaving.” Although it took way too long, it is a good thing that they are leaving and a good thing they will soon be disarmed, but it will be even better when SEIU can say that there are no police in any union local because Black Lives Really Do Matter.