Students gathered in front of the Smith Memorial Student Union on Nov. 24 to rally against a resolution being considered by the Portland State Board of Trustees to have deputized Campus Public Safety Officers on campus.
Portland State’s Student Action Coalition planned the event with cosponsorship with the PSU Student Union, the Portland International Socialist Organization, the Black Student Union, Don’t Shoot Portland and Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights.
“Don’t let PSU become the next Ferguson,” read a message written in chalk on the sidewalk.
Teressa Raiford, the communications director for DSP, also spoke to the crowd.
“Do not answer the call of diversity with fear,” Raiford said about the 2014 freshmen class, which is said to be the most diverse incoming class PSU has ever had.
Raiford encouraged protestors to email board members en masse, urging them to vote no on the resolution.
Members of the crowd stressed the need to search for alternatives to arming PSU’s officers.
“We want to find a better way. None of us believe guns are the answer. Guns do not mean safety to us…It’s going to create a culture of fear, and we want to spend our money on more progressive things. We’re really passionate about involving students,” said PSUSU and ASC member Christina Kane.
The board almost voted on the resolution at their first meeting of fall term, Kane said.
“I think the main thing that has been really difficult about this process is just the unfair amount of time that we have to present what we’re thinking. Even, you know it’s representative in the meetings. We get two minutes each, that’s not enough time to say anything,” said PSU student Leona Kindermann.
Following the rally, the crowd headed toward University Place Hotel, where the board hosted a special committee on public safety.
Special committee on public safety
Protesters stood in the room using the “mic-check” method to gain the attention of attendees. The demonstrators, led by PSUSU member Ricky Benner, thanked the board for focusing on campus safety.
“The actual number of armed officers would be very, very small,” said Vice President for Finance and Administration Kevin Reynolds. Reynolds and Campus Public Safety Chief Phillip Zerzan introduced two scenarios to the board in a presentation.
Scenario 1 would cost $1.5 million and involve 17 armed officers on campus. There would be three armed officers on campus at all times, Zerzan said.
Scenario 2 would cost around $1.1 million and involve fewer officers, with two armed officers on campus at all times.
The presentation also highlighted that non-deputized CPSO lack the ability to respond to reports of armed subjects, stop vehicles, engage in high-risk behaviors and make certain arrests.
“We do not have the ability to respond to an active shooter,” Zerzan said.
When the floor was opened to the public, speakers included students, community members and faculty.
CPSO Officer Chris Fisher and Officer Gregory Marks spoke during this time.
“As a Campus Public Safety Officer, I consider myself a part of this community, and I consider PSU my second home,” Fisher said.
“I have and will continue to do so, but in all fairness, the efforts I put into performing these tasks should come with the training and equipment necessary to keep both me and the community safe,” Fisher said.
During this time, Associated Students of Portland State President Eric Noll and Vice President Rayleen McMillan shared the results of a poll of 1,050 PSU students. Fifty-eight percent opposed armed forces, with 37 percent in support and 4 percent neutral, Noll said.
“The people on the board are human beings too. They very much care and have empathy in this situation. We saw this when they decided not to vote on the resolution [at an earlier meeting],” Noll said.
While PSU President Wim Wiewel was not present, a statement from him was read aloud. It stated that the time to act is now and urged board members to vote yes on the resolution.
“The ultimate strength in the university lies in its ability to attract and retain students and faculty. But that depends in part on a community wide belief that help is ready always and nearby—the kind of help that can actually help,” Zerzan said.
Zerzan was interrupted mid-closing statement by a chorus of sarcastic clapping from protesters in the crowd. One trustee asked the crowd to quiet down.
At one point, protesters handed jars of rice to some board members. Each jar contained an estimated 30,000 grains of mixed rice to represent the diversity of PSU’s student body. A small container with a few grains was placed on top of the jar to represent the board.
“We see what’s happening with police brutality all over the United States, all over Portland. In the wake of Ferguson, [Missouri] in the wake of all the murders. There are too many names to even count…We think it would disproportionately affect different communities on campus,” Kane said.
Potential alternatives include required conflict resolution training for freshmen, as well as many other possibilities, Kane said.
Noll expressed confidence that the board will listen to the student body and ASPSU.
The board will officially vote on the resolution on Dec. 11.