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Portland State anti-police activists shut down woman of color trying to defend armed cops

‘I’m tired of them representing the campus as a whole’

Five months after a female student of color defended Portland State University’s practice of arming campus police, #DisarmPSU student activists made sure another couldn’t do the same.

They prevented Lesley Guerra, a psychology student, from giving testimony at another Board of Trustees meeting to consider disarming campus police in part or completely.

Guerra told The College Fix in a phone interview Friday that campus police had come through for her in her three-plus years on campus, and that she wanted officers to be treated individually, not judged as a whole.

Testifying at Thursday’s board meeting “wasn’t my plan for the day,” said the self-described liberal Democrat, but she decided half an hour before that “I’m tired of them [#DisarmPSU activists] representing the campus as a whole.”

‘There’s a drunk guy, with a gun, who is not following orders’

The special board meeting, which was open to the public, was called to hear recommendations from a firm hired by PSU to evaluate whether and how officers should be armed.

Student activists have long protested the policy, which dates back four years, but their activism reached a boiling point after campus police shot and killed Jason Washington when he dropped his friend’s gun outside a bar. The Navy veteran, who is black, had a concealed-carry permit.

The incident sparked two university investigations, one led by Margolis Healy to consider the future of the policy. At Thursday’s meeting, the firm’s consultants recommended that a few campus police remain armed while PSU transitions to a “primary group of highly trained but unarmed officers to be a very visible presence on campus,” according to KPTV.

Guerra testified after many others spoke against armed police. “There’s a drunk guy, with a gun, who is not following orders and in my opinion that’s a very scary situation,” she said, when “the mic and her written statement were taken away,” KPTV reported.

The news station’s video shows student activists repeatedly talking over Guerra as she tried to testify. Her only intelligible statement in the din was asking for the #DisarmPSU protesters to show her the same respect she showed them when they spoke.

Activists cut her off ‘because my opinion did not align’ with theirs

Guerra told The Fix that she had never publicly talked about the policy before her spur-of-the-moment decision to attend the meeting. She waited her turn to speak at the microphone and “sat there quietly, which is what I’m supposed to do because I’m a grown adult.”

The student activists “got rowdy” when she stated the facts about Washington’s blood alcohol content, which was three times the legal limit for driving. Olivia Pace of the PSU Student Union, an unofficial body of self-described radical campus activists, yelled at Guerra for her source. Guerra said she cited the publicly available toxicology report on Washington’s death.

She got through about half of her prepared statement before #DisarmPSU activists cut her off “because my opinion did not align” with theirs, Guerra said.

“I understand the [Washington] family is there. I get it,” she told The Fix. “It’s a very hard process” to grieve so publicly. But “it’s not just Jason Washington’s family” to consider when designing policy for the sprawling PSU campus downtown. (PSU said only one city police officer was assigned to its part of town when it adopted the policy.)

Guerra lives in the neighborhood and she relies on the Campus Public Safety Office to protect her. If she goes for a walk and gets attacked, the city police won’t reach her, Guerra said.

“As a woman of color, I personally believe that yes, black lives matter,” but “we should not be judging CPSO as a whole,” she said, naming specific officers she knows. She credited campus police with intervening in a library incident she was involved in.

Guerra acknowledged that “cops are sometimes very rotten people,” but they go to their jobs every day facing death threats and slurs.

She questioned how representative the activists are of student opinion. The response rate was only 14 percent on a recent survey of the student body about the armed-police policy, Guerra said.

Her experience with activists on Thursday isn’t going to make her stay quiet. “I’m going to keep doing it,” and she’ll probably attend the next Board of Trustees meeting next month.

IMAGE: Marja Martinez/Twitter

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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