Portland, OR – Anti-police protesters declared victory on Thursday when Portland State University (PSU) announced that they had finally conceded to demands to disarm the university’s police force.
“The calls for change that we are hearing at PSU are ringing out across our nation,” PSU President Stephen Percy wrote in joint announcement with Campus Public Safety Chief Willie Haliburton on Aug. 13, KOIN reported.
“We must find a new way to protect the safety of our community, one that eliminates systemic racism and promotes the dignity of all who come to our urban campus,” Percy said.
The university president said the 180-degree flip from the decision announced in October of 2019 came after they “listened to many voices across our campus,” according to KOIN.
Chief Haliburton said Portland State police officers would not be carrying firearms on patrol as of September.
PSU police officers have been armed since 2015, KOIN reported.
The controversy over having armed, sworn police officers patrolling the PSU campus began after the officer-involved shooting of 45-year-old Jason Washington in 2018.
The shooting occurred when police responded to a fight in front of a bar called the Cheerful Tortoise at about 1:30 a.m. on June 29, The Oregonian reported.
That’s where Washington and his friend, 43-year-old Jeremy Wilkinson, had met earlier that afternoon.
Then they bar hopped their way around town while watching College World Series games, and returned for late night drinks at the Cheerful Tortoise, according to The Oregonian.
Witnesses told police that Washington had been trying to keep Wilkinson out of a fight with some other men in front of the bar, when Wilkinson threw one of the other men’s cell phones.
Portland State Police Officers James Dewey and Shawn McKenzie arrived as the fight was already in progress, but the men didn’t stop brawling when they saw the police.
The Oregonian reported that one of the men involved in the brawl told officers that Washington had pulled a gun on them.
Washington was seen with a holstered gun at his hip, according to The Oregonian.
During the fight, Washington lost his balance while trying to pull someone off of Wilkinson, and fell backwards onto the ground. When he got back up, he had the gun in his hand, according to The Oregonian.
The officers ordered Washington to drop the gun, but instead he turned and began to walk away. He continued to ignore commands to drop his weapon and seconds later, both officers opened fire.
The Oregonian reported that police found a black Walther PPQ 9mm pistol on the ground about six inches from Washington’s right hand.
Washington was declared dead at the scene by paramedics. Toxicology reports revealed he had a blood-alcohol content of .24 percent when he died, according to The Oregonian.
Wilkinson told police that Washington was carrying Wilkinson’s pistol because he’d given it to him for safekeeping before he got into the fight because he didn’t want to do anything stupid.
Washington, a Navy veteran and who worked for the U.S. Postal Service, had a valid concealed-carry permit, The Oregonian reported.
A Multnomah grand jury investigated the shooting and ruled that it had been justified, and both officers were taken off administrative leave and returned to duty, according to The Oregonian.
The student community was up in arms after the officers weren’t charged and expressed their outrage by setting up camp outside of the school’s police department.
Protesters demanded that the PSU police give up their weapons and issued a list of demands that they wanted me before they would leave, The Oregonian reported.
But they didn’t succeed in their mission and in October of 2019, PSU announced a plan to continue to have armed police officers but double the number of unarmed safety officers, The Oregonian reported.
At the time, PSU had a budget for 10 armed police officers but only had six on the force because of problems with recruiting amid the police protests and upheaval.
Students and community members were furious with the university’s decision, and after 46-year-old George Floyd died in the custody of the Minneapolis police on May 25, they renewed their calls for disarmament, The Oregonian reported.
The latest announcement came just five months after Chief Halliburton took the helm of the PSU police department.
The chief served 20 years with the Portland Police Bureau before joining the police force at the school in 2015, The Oregonian reported.
He said that the Portland police had agreed to assist the university police “if there is a call that requires an armed presence.”
This is a historic event in the world of police work,” Chief Halliburton said. “I understand it’s going to have its challenges, but it’s the right thing to do for Portland State. We will still protect our campus. We will still provide police services. We will have police officers available. We will have them here, but they will be unarmed.”
The chief said that six campus officers would still carry Tasers and other less-lethal tactical gear, OPB reported.
But he said the additional seven non-sworn officers that PSU planned to hire would be completely unarmed.
“This is unique for Portland State University,” Chief Halliburton admitted in his statement. “I am not asking for other departments to follow our lead. All I know is that at Portland State University, we need to heal, and this is the first step of healing.”