Some students at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon are calling for the school’s administration to disarm the university’s cops after a grand jury cleared two police officers in a fatal shooting that occurred last June near the Cheerful Tortoise sports bar. The bar sits just off the PSU campus in downtown Portland.
I don’t agree with disarming cops who don’t deserve it. That’s no surprise. But I might understand the students’ upset if a shooting were clouded by legitimate controversy. This shooting was not. But, for the perennial agitators, we know that this has nothing to do with a legitimate controversy. The illegitimate controversy is leftist-manufactured manure just like so many other social crises peddled by social justice radicals.
So, what happens when we cut through the political nonsense and focus on facts placed within the proper context? We can learn the truth about what happened in what is a true tragedy.
It seems 45-year-old Jason Washington, the man who police shot and killed, was trying to break up the fight and probably meant the officers no harm. But there was no way for the officers at the scene to know that, and Washington’s actions presented a clear and imminent threat to the cops and bystanders. It seems the man’s poor decision making while heavily intoxicated got him killed. This is very sad.
National radio talk show host Lars Larson, who broadcasts out of Portland, and said he is a friend of the deceased man’s parents, gave a synopsis. On John Carlson’s KVI Radio morning show, Lars told the audience Washington was drinking in a bar just off the PSU campus. Larson said Washington’s friend got into a fight with another man outside, up the street, once they left the bar.
Larson also said Washington’s friend, a concealed-carry permit holder, was armed with a semi-automatic pistol. Before the fight, Washington, also a concealed-carry permit holder, took the gun from his friend and put it into his pants pocket. From cell phone and officer body-camera video, you can see a significant portion of the gun protruding from Washington’s right front pocket.
The situation was not under control, and a melee was underway as officers arrived. Someone pointed at Washington and told the police he had pointed a gun at them. The gun is sticking out of Washington’s right pocket, even as officers are standing next to him.
I don’t know if the officers initially saw the gun. They weren’t reacting to it. Yes, adrenaline can do that. As Washington tried to break up the fight between his friend and another man, Washington fell to the ground. When he did, the gun slid from his pocket onto the sidewalk.
On the video, you can hear officers yelling “he’s got a gun” and then, “drop the gun.” When Washington did not drop the gun, officers opened fire and shot him. Washington fell onto the sidewalk and died of his wounds. One of the original combatants was also lying on the sidewalk. He had been knocked out during the fight.
Remember, all that information people learned about Washington and the incident, while reading the articles and watching the videos, officers didn’t know at the time. The cops only knew whether an armed person was complying with their instructions or not. The reasons for not complying don’t matter—they can’t matter in that moment. Officers can only act and react based on what confronts them at the time.
It appears that’s exactly what these officers did. Reacted to danger. But a group of leftist radical students (yeah, probably encouraged by some professors), who were not at the scene that night and saw none of the evidence, doesn’t believe the officers did the right thing. But a grand jury who did see all the evidence does believe the cops acted appropriately—not perfectly (which seems to be the new standard) but within a range of actions appropriate for the circumstances.
I wonder how any of those students, calling for disarming campus police officers, would have handled that situation. You yell at a man several times to “drop the gun,” and he doesn’t drop the gun. I’d like to know the magic words the radical students would have used.
What would be the alternative? Run up and give him a hug? Cops know that most people, who have a gun and refuse a cop’s order to drop it, just might want to shoot the cop. Again, knowing what I know now, it doesn’t look like Washington meant the cops any harm. Sadly, there was no way for officers to know that. And, should the police have ignored the witnesses who vehemently and repeatedly accused Washington of pointing the gun at them, when officers first arrived?
Who comprises the student opposition is no surprise. The Oregonian reported, “‘This is where we put our foot down,’ said activist Alyssa Pagan, amid chants of ‘Occupy PSU.’” Occupy. That pretty much tells you what you need to know. Cops are quite familiar with the Occupy movement’s violence and radical stances on issues. Of course, they don’t want the cops armed.
Reportedly, the activists seek to memorialize Washington and want the officers involved in the shooting to be fired. Fired for what? Again, what’s their recommended alternative? Should the cops have bet their lives a drunk guy with a gun wouldn’t shoot anyone?
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: I don’t know of another job where more people who know nothing about the job think they know how to do the job better than those trained to do it.
The police later found a concealed-carry permit in Washington’s wallet. But leftists seem to imply that officers should have somehow known Washington could legally carry a concealed firearm—and that somehow meant he wouldn’t use it against the officers. None of that matters once an officer tells you to drop your gun, and you do not drop it.
In fact, if you watch the video, the gun wasn’t concealed. Washington was actually carrying openly on a public street, which is legal in Oregon. But legal carry, open or concealed, didn’t matter at that point. Even if it’s legal to carry the gun, when the gun is in your hand, and a police officer tells you to drop it and you don’t, that’s not legal.
PSU released a statement saying it is examining its “policy of arming campus police.”
Sorry, officers of the Portland State University Police Department. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not seeing any good news in my crystal ball. I’m afraid, in today’s academic atmosphere, where administrations cave in to leftist bullying, your ability to protect yourselves and the students, staff, and faculty you serve, with the most efficient weapon for the task, is threatened.
Again, this is a true tragedy that shouldn’t have happened. But it wasn’t the fault of the sober cops responding to a 911 call to help people, many of whom were intoxicated, and at least one who was armed. Though it sounds like he was a good man, for the police critics, do Mr. Washington and his friend’s bear any responsibility for what happened?
Without the drunks fighting, Washington would not have felt compelled to protect his friend by taking the gun. Without the drunks fighting, no one would have called the cops. Without the drunks fighting, Mr. Washington would not be dead.
How smart was it for Mr. Washington’s friend to be armed while consuming alcohol excessively? What was Mr. Washington thinking when he shoved that gun into his pocket? I believe he was looking out for his friend. In fact, before Mr. Washington failed to drop the gun and police shot him, his actions seemed directed at stopping the fight.
But when Mr. Washington didn’t leave the gun on the ground, and when he didn’t drop the gun, as the cops told him to do, as they say, all bets were off.
I’ll tell you one thing. Sitting down in my comfortable chair at my computer keyboard, watching events unfold in a video, and knowing all the information gathered after the incident, isn’t the same as being there, interpreting and assessing violent vs. non-violent actions while a chaotic incident is in-progress.
The radical students have not been in that position.
But the cops have.