State College police must take very seriously allegations that two Penn State graduate students were the focus of verbal harassment that had racial implications.
That would include fully investigating the students’ feelings that a borough police officer observed a portion of the incident and didn’t do enough to protect them.
The students, who are black, filed a report Saturday with the borough police. They said they were parked in a private lot outside an apartment building in downtown State College just after midnight Saturday morning when five people came out of a nearby bar.
The students told police the individuals, all of whom were white, shouted at them, saying they looked “shady” and “suspicious.” The students, who are with the School of Theatre, said one man in the group was especially belligerent and dropped his pants twice.
In an email to the Centre Daily Times late Sunday, State College Police Chief Tom King said, “This offense is under investigation.”
He called the behavior of the bargoers “unprovoked.”
No arrests have been made.
King asked that anyone with knowledge of the incident call State College police at 234-7150, or visit www.statecollegepa.com to leave a tip.
We urge anyone who might have been in the area at the time and who might have knowledge about what went on to help police with the investigation.
Police are looking for help identifying the individuals who came out of the bar, King said.
Reports Sunday indicate that a police officer was there for at least part of the encounter, including at the time of one of the gestures that King called “mooning.”
“A police officer observed a portion of this incident,” King said.
But did that officer take the incident seriously? The students said the officer did speak to the individuals who came out of the bar and then left, and the students said it did not appear to be a serious discussion — even though the officer reportedly witnessed the man dropping his pants.
We’re surprised that officer didn’t obtain the names of the individuals involved, especially the man who reportedly used vulgarity and exposed himself.
One of the students, Stori Ayers, spoke with a Centre Daily Times reporter on Sunday and said she was “immediately uncomfortable and didn’t feel safe” during the encounter.
She wondered: “If we were a white couple would we look so ‘shady’? So ‘suspicious’?”
Borough police should fully investigate the events of that night, including their own officer’s actions. And the results of that investigation should be made public.
The students, who were clearly troubled by the experience, deserve nothing less.
Dan Carter, director of Penn State’s School of Theatre, said he joined the two students in a meeting Monday with police.
He said his impression after the two-hour session is that the police are taking the matter seriously. That’s good.
“I felt comfortable about the attention the police are paying to this,” Carter said.
Carter is advising the two students from his school as they work through the situation. He felt the students “felt supported” by police.
He said the borough officers “made it clear they want to be the police force for the entire community.”
That is a great first step.
We look forward to additional updates from the State College police.
The message must be sent that such unprovoked harassment is not acceptable behavior in our community.