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Commentary: Concrete action can help the healing after State College police shooting

Last month’s shooting of 29-year-old Osaze Osagie, a State College young man, one of our own, has devastated our community.

Never here, never in more than a century. And yet it happened, producing many questions that are on hold while the independent review conducted by the state police and Centre County District Attorney’s Office is being completed.

No matter how the review turns out, it will never return Osaze to his family and his community. And it will never cover up the scar of having a beloved young man struggling with mental health issues who happened to be black shot dead after a team of State College police officers arrived at his door.

As our community struggles with the aftermath of the shooting, State College Borough Council and council President Evan Myers deserve a shout-out for their reported willingness to address head on the underlying fact (and elephant in the room) that black men are disproportionately victims of police shootings in America. It is a cancer in our country that undermines trust and justice, so very much needs to be among the issues acknowledged and considered. Council’s call for more conversations about race in our community comes when, thanks to the work of enlightened church-based leaders here, such conversations are well under way. Broader participation is an ongoing goal.

Conversation on race, however, should not be the primary thrust of what Borough Council and the community do next. Indeed, it will require some getting down in the weeds and wrestling again (and anew) with some infinitely thorny issues that desperately need solutions. For example, why in the year 2019 is the State College police force lacking African American officers? And why is it that a mental health professional does not always partner with those responsible for enforcing a “mental health warrant” on any community member, regardless of race?

In this regard, the community is fortunate to have at its disposal the report of the town-gown Task Force on Policing Communities of Color referenced in Lauren Muthler’s recent article in this newspaper. The task force completed a comprehensive review of best practices and identified recommendations designed to elevate the policing of communities of color in our region. Taking a look at what has been accomplished and what remains to be done could be useful as a means to help identify and prioritize courses of action that could be beneficial.

This absolutely should not be an effort that produces yet “another special report.” We have enough of those in the queue. Rather, the goal should be to identify one to five concrete actions we can implement now, immediately, to advance our practices and policies for policing peoples of color in our community.

Should we be successful, and surely we can, this would be but one of several ways we can begin to heal the gaping wound in our hearts.

Carol Herrmann is retired and lives in State College.
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