What happened to George Floyd on May 25 is a horrifying reminder of how deeply racist our society is. Those who deny that racism wasn’t the reason Floyd was murdered are themselves contributing to the problem — and that problem isn’t far from home.
Oregon’s universities aren’t free from institutional racism, as we were reminded in June 2018 when two campus police officers killed Jason Washington, an African-American man who was trying to break up a fight outside a sports bar near Portland State University. What punishments did these officers receive following the killing? They were placed on paid administrative leave and, when they could have been brought to court, a grand jury decided not to indict them. This scandal should’ve had a major impact on how Oregon’s universities viewed on-campus policing. It didn’t.
While the city of Corvallis is making attempts to ameliorate racial bias in policing by unanimously approving to spend up to $150,000 on a bias response program, no such efforts have been announced by OSU since the Board of Trustees voted earlier this year to hire a police force. It shouldn’t go unmentioned that students didn’t have much of a say in this decision and will likely be the ones suffering the consequences if something were to go wrong. Like back in October of 2019, when an African-American student was arrested after a police officer stopped her for riding her bicycle down the wrong side of the road not far from OSU’s campus. Given that more and more people are finally being made aware of the prevalence of racist police practices and police brutality, the university needs to be taking steps to eliminate the chances of this being carried out by OSU police.
At the moment, trust in law enforcement is quite low. For those of us who have been to protests demanding justice for George Floyd and an end to racist policing, we’ve seen firsthand that the police are willing to take a knee with us one minute and shoot tear gas at us the next. It’s not that there are a few “bad apples"; these are institutional deficiencies that yield similar results across the country. African-Americans being disproportionately murdered by police and peaceful protests ending in police brutality have given police officers the reputation of being quite violent and perfidious creatures; however, it doesn’t have to be this way at OSU.
Recently, members of the University of Pennsylvania community created a petition with specific policy reforms for their university to carry out like: “form an investigative team comprising students and faculty of color, that will examine every instance of a person of color being stopped and frisked by the university police” and “deploy that investigative team to review policies and training practices of the university police.” They also demanded that the university “ban the use of guns on campus by the university police force.” The only justification for an armed police force on campus would be if there was concrete evidence demonstrating that having an armed police force on campus prevented or reduced university shootings or university violence. No such evidence exists. If there was a situation that required the use of lethal force, OSU would need to establish an agreement with the Benton County Sheriff’s Office and the Corvallis Police Department to set up a response protocol for this highly unlikely scenario.
If OSU were to implement policies like these, they would be making our campus a much safer place for the African-American community, as well as other groups who are disproportionately targeted by police. It’s imperative that the university take steps to ensure the safety and security of everyone on campus and to recognize that institutional reform is a necessary part of the process.
Black lives matter.
Diego Leon-Patino is studying public health at Oregon State University.