Earlier today at a packed hearing at the University Place Hotel, the fledgling Portland State University board of trustees voted to authorize weaponizing its existing campus security force. This action was taken despite almost universal student and faculty opposition.
Prior to the hearing, a short rally and march from the Park Blocks to the hotel took place. One speaker highlighted the national trend of increasing militarization, “PSU says it only wants to arm two officers for now, but what about tomorrow? When will they decide to approve armored vehicles on campus?” The crowd applauded their concurrence.
Outside the hearing hall, students staged a die-in – which the board quietly ignored by walking directly through.
During testimony, the crowd boo’d and hissed at the small minority of supporting testimony from those paid to be there in favor of armed security. Quoted from a prior hearing, student Barbara Payne said, “As a woman I don’t think I’m ever gonna feel comfortable whether they’re armed or not because it’s about response time, it’s about dark corners, it’s about me leaving campus at 9 at night and going into a parking structure.”
Die-in happening right now at PSU University Place Hotel. https://t.co/xZHsQfxyOn
— Dont Shoot PDX (@DontShootPdx) December 11, 2014
Incredibly, most of the arguments for arming campus security were that the biggest ‘threat’ on campus are transients and homeless people who wander in. Today’s vote flies in the face of prevailing logic that has proven people living on the street and other at-risk communities suffering mental illness may not be able to comply with an officer in ways that would prevent escalation of conflict. For those living without shelter, interactions with police are common. For these people any interaction with an armed officer can prove emotionally triggering.
When one young man’s turn to testify against weaponization came up today, he turned to the crowd and asked all those opposed to stand and raise their hands. The vast majority of those in attendance immediately did so. After this ‘student vote’, the same young man asked those in support to stand in favor.
Literally only one person did so.
After several hours of far less controversial board business regarding university operations the board prepared to vote. Chairman of the board Pete Nickerson moved to vote on the resolution, which was promptly seconded. Some procedural confusion then took place, as the board seemed to not know precisely what language they were approving or rejecting.
During lengthy discussion regarding whether the board was in fact voting to approve armed officers today or if the resolution was only to deputize officers and arming would be decided at a later date, board member Maude Hines interjected, “I’m a literature professor, and as they say if there’s a gun in the first act you know it’s going to be used by the third act.” This comment drew applause and whistles from the room.
After dithering over several amendments to the resolution, the board finally voted in favor. Those opposed in the audience were visibly disgusted. Shouts of, “I can’t breathe!” were heard in the hall.
After adjournment there was serious disappointment on peoples’ faces as the crowd left the hall. The semantics of the wording sunk in, and people realized the board had in fact authorized weaponizing campus security.