An alumna against arming officers

Dear Board of Trustees and President Wim Wiewel,

I am writing today to protest against the arming of Portland State Campus Public Safety Officers.

I graduated with a Master’s from the PSU book publishing program in 2011. As an alumna, I have been following your recent “Fearless” campaigns. I am grateful for my PSU education, but hearing about the proposed security changes have turned me from fearless to fearful.

I am fearful that feminist messaging around sexual assault prevention is being co-opted for a quick fix. Rape is overwhelmingly committed by acquaintances—not by strangers lurking in the dark. In addition, law enforcement has proven many times to not be substantial for when victims come forward. Often times women are blamed for their own rape, retraumatized in the process and only three percent of rapists serve time in prison. Cops are not the solution to ending sexual assault. I would love to see the $1.5 million go to better mental health services, better resources for victims of sexual assault, and education on healthy relationships.

I am fearful that the security officers will include and receive training from the Portland Police, which the United States Department of Justice found guilty, just two years ago, of excess force against individuals with actual or perceived mental illness. Their report found (1) Portland Police encounters with such individuals too frequently resulted in a higher level of force than necessary; (2) Portland Police employed Tasers more times than necessary on such individuals, or in circumstances where such force was not justified; and (3) Portland Police used a higher degree of force than justified for low level offenses. Recently, a young queer, black woman with no criminal record was stopped, assaulted and humiliated by Portland Police and jailed for not wearing a seat belt. Is this who you want making the campus “safer?”

I am fearful for the black men and women on campus who will be targeted as potential criminals instead of as human beings. We have witnessed this on college campuses across the country—from Vassar to Arizona to Harvard. And I am sure you are very familiar with the protests around the country attesting to police violence toward and unnecessary deaths of unarmed black Americans. Seventy-six unarmed black people have died in police custody between 1999 and 2014. Countless more have been unnecessarily harassed and assaulted.

I am fearful that the Board and President Wiewel will go against the wishes of both the PSU Student Union and the Faculty Senate, both of whom are against arming security officers and who have proposed alternatives for a safer campus.

I am fearful for the precedent this sets not just for PSU, but for other urban campuses who think the quickest, easiest way to solve a security measure is with police. I urge you to listen to the student body and to not go forward with this measure.


Kjerstin Johnson
Portland State University ’11