Content warning: This article discusses policy and events surrounding police violence.
On the morning of Monday, Jan. 25, several buildings on the Lewis & Clark academic campus were spray painted with messages criticizing President Wim Wiewel for his role in the death of Jason Washington, who was killed by Portland State University (PSU) campus police officers in 2018.
A banner reading “Wim Wiewel Killed Jason Washington” was also hung on the Frank Manor House. On the residential campus, flyers denounced the arming of PSU campus police, declaring that “Wim Wiewel has blood on his hands. He must be held responsible. Jason should be alive today.” By Monday night, the graffiti and posters had been removed.
The messages referenced Wiewel’s involvement in the creation of an armed police force at PSU while he was president of the university. After LC students pressured Wiewel last summer to explain why he opted to arm PSU police, he broke down his decision in an open letter on July 8, 2020.
“I proposed to the Board of Trustees in the fall of 2014 that PSU establish its own police force,” Wiewel said.
He based his decision on recommendations from an internal task force investigation. Despite resistance from students, faculty and neighbors, the armed police force was established during the 2014-15 school year.
Washington was killed on June 29, 2018, a year after Wiewel left PSU in 2017. In his letter, Wiewel addressed Washington’s death.
“The worst scenario came to pass,” Wiewel said. “Jason Washington was killed by PSU officers during a street fight, holding a gun, on June 29, 2018. The Multnomah District Attorney did not bring any charges against the officers.”
Wiewel did not elaborate on the context of Washington’s death.
Bodycam footage shows that Washington, a 45-year-old Black man, was attempting to break up a fight
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when police arrived on the scene. He had a concealed carry permit and was holding a gun he had confiscated from his friend. As he was walking away, PSU police shot Washington nine times, killing him less than 30 seconds after arriving at the scene.
The graffiti and posters reopened conversations about Wiewel’s involvement in Washington’s death. Wiewel responded in a campus-wide email on Jan. 26.
“Defacement of our campus will not be tolerated,” Wiewel said. “Campus Safety observed and responded to the incident in process on Monday morning. We have video footage of the perpetrators and have filed a report with the Portland Police Bureau.”
Steven Greig, interim director of Campus Safety, clarified that the police report was standard procedure and “required for a number of reasons, such as filing an insurance claim, or pursuing civil or criminal charges in the future.”
Wiewel agreed with Greig that the report did not mean LC was treating the graffiti as a special case. In a statement to The Pioneer Log, Wiewel said that contacting the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) after the incident was not abnormal.
“Campus Safety informed me that a report to the Portland Police Bureau was filed as part of their standard operating procedure of filing a report whenever a property crime occurs on campus, whether it is a car break-in or act of vandalism,” Wiewel said. “We did not call the police to come to campus, and they are not investigating. There’s nothing unusual about how this incident is being handled.”
Greig indicated that Campus Safety will be investigating the incident rather than PPB. This means if students are involved, they will be referred to Student Rights and Responsibilities (SSR).
Jessica Carron, interim director of SSR, explained that the college has dealt with graffiti before. According to Carron, a typical course of action “depends on the amount of damage that came to the school (and) how our conversation goes,” adding that “(SSR tries) to be educational in (its) interactions.”
Involving the PPB raised concerns from students on campus. Elijah Hart is a member of the Prison Abolition Club and assumes students were involved in the incident.
“That decision very much endangered the students who were involved, particularly if they are students of color,” Hart said.
On social media, dozens of students, many of them white, have called for Wiewel to resign. Hart does not entirely agree with these students and urges them to wait for the Black Student Union’s response.
“That sort of conversation really needs to follow what the most affected students are requesting,” Hart said. He is not in favor of “white speculation on issues involving the murder of a Black person by the decisions of white people.”
Student groups questioned LC’s response to the graffiti in a collective letter written by the Prison Abolition Club, Black Student Union, Feminist Student Union, Muslim Student Association, Queer Student Union, Disabled Student Union, Gente Latina Unida and the ASLC Equity, Inclusion, & Justice Committee.
“We felt hurt and disappointed that you chose to call the police in response to an act of nonviolent protest against police violence,” the groups said in the letter. “Your open fraternization with a punitive and racist system of justice suggests that you are uninterested in understanding the perspective of the community that you lead.”
Instead of a punitive approach, the organizations called for a transformative justice process. They suggested an open dialogue that addresses Wiewel’s role in the death of Jason Washington, how that affects his relationship with the LC community and the harm caused by the graffiti.
“We encourage you, as the leader of the college, to set a precedent for our community,” the groups wrote. “We urge you not to pursue charges and instead engage with us students in an intervention focused on addressing the distrust and harm that this incident has created.”