On the two-year anniversary of the shooting death of Jason Washington by Portland State University campus police, the university announced a scholarship and art piece will be commissioned in Washington's honor.
In a statement Monday, June 29, PSU President Stephen Percy said the university is working with Washington's family to establish the memorial scholarship. The scholarship was one of the byproducts of a $1 million settlement PSU agreed to pay Washington's family in December 2019 after the threat of a wrongful death lawsuit.
"I am writing to you as I contemplate a sad and difficult day in the university's history," Percy said in a statement Monday. "Two years ago, Jason Washington was killed in a Campus Police Officer-involved shooting. Mr. Washington was a husband, father, grandfather, dedicated public servant and a Navy veteran. His tragic death caused profound trauma, and our campus community continues to mourn his loss."
Percy said in addition to the Jason Washington Memorial Scholarship, an art piece will be placed on campus "as a memorial to this tragic loss of life."
Later Monday evening, hundreds turned out for a public march and vigil for Washington, held near the PSU campus. The vigil was organized by Disarm PSU Now. Disarm PSU Now was formed months after Washington's death in 2018, and has since called for the university to stop allowing its security officers to carry guns.
Michelle Washington spoke of her late husband and how that night two years ago transformed her life.
"I met Jason when I was 15 years old," she said, speaking to the crowd gathered for the vigil. "The moment I saw him, I said, 'That's going to be my husband.' If anyone can just imagine what it's like to have your soul mate ripped away from you … Our lives will never be the same. I'll never truly be able to live my life the way that I was supposed to."
Washington was fatally shot by PSU campus police who responded to an altercation outside the Cheerful Tortoise bar at the downtown campus on June 29, 2018. Witnesses on scene that night say Washington was trying to break up a fight. Reports from that night indicate Washington's friend had given him his gun to hold on to and at some point during the altercation, the gun fell to the ground and Washington picked it up. Officers said they instructed Washington to drop the weapon, and opened fire after he didn't immediately respond to commands. The two PSU officers involved in the shooting, James Dewey and Shawn Allen McKenzie, were both cleared of any charges by a Multnomah County grand jury later that year. Neither of them works for PSU any longer.
Acquaintances of the Washington family who spoke Monday warned that Washington "won't be the last" to die at the hands of police unless substantial changes are made.
Fatal incident sparks growing calls to disarm police
Washington's death in 2018 led to calls from students, community members and PSU faculty to do away with using armed security officers on the downtown campus. Two years later, those efforts haven't waned.
Washington's daughter, Kayla Washington, is among those calling for PSU police to be disarmed.
"PSU doesn't want you to know that my father, a Black man, a veteran, a peacemaker, was killed because PSU made a horrific decision to lethally arm their security, against the wishes of students, faculty and staff," Washington wrote in a June 12 post that was shared to the Instagram account of PDX Black Excellence, where Washington serves as director of operations. "The past two weeks have been a powerful reminder of how collective action can rattle entrenched systems and force the conversation on long overdue reforms."
Miranda Mosier, an assistant professor at PSU and member of Disarm PSU Now, said she and others were "disappointed by the omission of a commitment to disarmament in yesterday's announcement." Mosier said the group will keep pushing the university to ditch its use of guns for security.
"As a faculty member, I've been frustrated by the university's ongoing resistance to community demands to disarm and the situation it's created for students and alumni, who are organizing because of the threats armed campus police pose to them and our entire community, as evidenced by Jason Washington's killing," Mosier said.
PSU's announcement of the scholarship and art installation came amid a backdrop of racial tension and daily protests in downtown Portland against police brutality following the May 25 murder of George Floyd in Minnesota by a police officer.
"These are critical steps on our collective healing journey and provide lasting reminders that from grief and tragedy we must learn and we must change," Percy said, pledging more robust work to combat systemic racism within the university. "Our path to healing, learning and changing will include significant work at PSU, including considering our approaches to campus safety and taking a bold look at the ways systemic racism and anti-blackness show up on our campus."
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