State College Stands Up

Photo by Helena Haynes

Ever since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, people across the country and the world have been speaking out, protesting, signing petitions and donating towards the Black Lives Matter movement. Although the death of George Floyd was far from an isolated incident of racial injustice, it has triggered a huge reaction and a demand for change in the United States. State College is no different.

There has been a protest each Sunday for the past two weeks starting at the Allen Street gates and ending at the Municipal building. There is no sign of stopping anytime soon until serious change is enacted in State College. The next protest is currently scheduled for Sunday, June 14.

Photo by Helena Haynes

For both protests thus far, there has been an amazing turnout. Hundreds of people of all ages—children, high school students, college students, adults, and even elderly community members— have come out to show their support for Black Lives Matter and to fight for justice for the people who have been murdered at the hands of the police and white supremacists.

Many community members have had the opportunity to speak out during the State College protests. State College Area High School students, Penn State students, Penn State faculty and other residents have taken the mic to share personal testimonies, thoughts, and words of encouragement to keep the momentum going.

Although State College has a notorious reputation of being a seemingly accepting, open and more liberal community, many of the speakers highlighted the fact that there are still many cases of racism, implicit bias and microaggressions in this town. Some of the younger high school-aged speakers emphasized a disparity in the local education system including inadequate black history education, racist incidents in schools and a serious lack of black representation in the faculty and staff.

Photo by Helena Haynes

At the June 7 protest, Penn State professor Errol Henderson addressed the crowd while the protestors were sitting in place on Atherton street outside of the Metropolitan apartment building. Last year, Henderson wrote an open letter titled “Being Black at Penn State” that was published in the Daily Collegian. His letter addressed the extreme lack of diversity within the Penn State faculty, despite Penn State constantly preaching about diversity and inclusion on campus.

During Henderson’s speech, he implied that Penn State does not like when faculty members speak out in the way he did in his letter, and by speaking at the protest. Similarly to the contents of his letter, he touched on racial issues at Penn State while encouraging protestors to keep fighting. He also talked about the death of Osaze Osagie that occurred in State College on March 20, 2019. Henderson spoke on the importance of getting justice for Osagie and finding out the truth regarding the people involved.

As many people know, the killing of Osaze Osagie was deemed justified by the police despite the fact that the police visitation was supposed to be a 302 mental health check.

Photo by Helena Haynes

At the second protest on Sunday, June 7, a list of demands for the local State College police was introduced by members of the 3/20 Coalition. This group was formed as a result of the death of Osaze Osagie last year.

One of their main demands was for the police to surrender the names of the officers involved in the killing of Osaze Osagie. Specifically, the name and termination of Officer #1.

The complete list of demands includes:

  1. Implementation of a Community Advisory Board to address discrimination, bias and racism in our local government and police.
  2. Divestment of guns during the service of mental health checks and Mental Health warrants (302).
  3. Revision to Standards of Operating Procedures that emphasize de-escalation strategies to be used during engagement and consequences for failure to execute.
  4. Public access to officer misconduct information and disciplinary history when death results.
  5. Public release of protocol and bodycam footage for officers accused of misuse of force and race-based policing.
  6. A ban on the use of knee holds and chokeholds.
  7. Release the names of all officers involved in all shootings and fire Officer #1.
  8. Financial compensation to the Osagie family for the tragic death of their 29-year-old son, Osaze Osagie.
  9. Transparency and the release of policing data regarding policing with special attention to race and ethnicity.
  10. A reallocation of funding away from the SCPD to programs that address the root causes of suffering and violence, and provide benefit to public well-being and safety.

Until at least some of these demands are met and serious change is enacted in State College, it is unlikely that people will stop protesting, marching, and speaking out. No place is immune to racial injustice, not even towns like State College that pride themselves in being inclusive and embracing diversity. The United States as a whole NEEDS to do better. Silence is no longer an option.

Photo by Helena Haynes
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