PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Before Patrick Kindred walks the quarter-mile to class on chilly days, he considers what could be an important question: To wear a hoodie, or not to wear a hoodie?
It’s not because the temperature is unpredictable. It’s because he’s black, and there are now armed police officers patrolling the University of Oregon’s Eugene campus.
Kindred said he’s terrified of police, and housemates at his predominantly black fraternity share his concerns.
“We talk about it. If we’re in a group, how many of us will there be? What are we wearing?” said Kindred, a 22-year-old native of Portland.
Now, male African American students at Portland State University say they worry they’ll face similar issues if the urban university proceeds with creating its own sworn, armed police force.
“If they had guns on campus, we would be on a ticking time bomb for another Keaton Otis,” said Deyalo Bennette, who helped create Portland State’s new Black Student Union.
He referred to the 25-year-old African American man fatally shot by Portland police in 2010.
Administrators argue the university needs a police force to deal with sexual assaults and prepare for a school shooting, among other security needs. The existing public safety department doesn’t have the numbers or the authority it needs to protect the campus, they say.
Some women’s advocates on campus have come out in favor of the switch to a professional police force.
Portland State is an outlier when it comes to campus safety. The university has fewer officers per 1,000 students than other comparable urban universities or any other public college in Oregon, according to university researchers.
Bennette, a senior, wants to keep it that way. Portland State can be a “beacon of light” by investing in peace officers and conflict resolution instead of armed officers, he said.
He hasn’t had a problem with public safety officers on campus. He believes that introducing guns and police authority into the mix would change the dynamic.
That’s exactly what Kindred has seen happen at the University of Oregon, where he said campus police officers “park their cars and hang out” on campus, making him and his black peers uncomfortable.
“If we can find anywhere but campus to be, we will be there,” Kindred said.
About 3 percent of Portland State’s students, or 800 to 900 students, are black. The gender breakdown among that cohort is unclear.
Danielle Ali-Cassim, a black PSU student from Hillsboro, said she doesn’t worry for her own safety around police officers. She’s had only positive interactions. But when she sees a police officer on the street at night, she said, she looks around nervously for young black men.
“As black women, we take on a lot of black men’s issues,” she said. “We’re concerned for them. We look out for them. For me, that’s always present.”
Phil Zerzan, Portland State’s chief of campus public safety, said he doesn’t understand why minority students worry about being profiled if his department transitions to a sworn police force.
The university would have control over hiring, training and holding officers accountable, he said. The force would be integrated with the university’s resource centers and would be subject to the school’s equity policy.
Zerzan said Portland State has an opportunity to get policing right.
“How about not having racist cops?” the chief said. “How about having a culture and an organization that doesn’t allow that?”
Doctoral candidate Joseph DeFilippis said it is “disingenuous” for university leaders to use statistics to support their proposal for a sworn police force but at the same ask the community to disregard statistics about police violence and discrimination.
While there is no data available on the number or demographics of police homicides, it is clear from local and national conversations that many black Americans sense inequity and fear police.
Blacks are more likely to experience the use or threat of force from police officers than whites or Hispanics, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Police Public Contact Survey in 2008.
Chief Zerzan said it doesn’t make sense to create a force with full police authority but no guns. Officers have to be able to defend themselves and students in dangerous situations, he said, such as a school shooting.
“We agree that you need to have a safe campus,” said Bennette, a leader among black students at Portland State. “But you are asking for safety at the expense of other students’ safety.”
Information from: The Oregonian, https://www.oregonlive.com
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