Demonstrators interrupt State College Borough Council meeting
Protesters interrupted the State College Borough Council meeting Monday night, demanding action in the wake of the officer-involved fatal shooting of 29-year-old Osaze Osagie on March 20.
Demonstrators outlined their demands and assembled for nearly a half-hour in the third-floor council chambers on South Allen Street, where council President Evan Myers had opened the session with a statement on Osagie’s death. After each council member shared thoughts on the shooting at the previous week’s meeting, Myers said, it was time to “move beyond talk.”
“We need to find peace, but in order to find peace, there must be justice,” he said. “While community meetings have continued to discuss the important issues of race and dealing with those challenged with mental illness, I would also like to pledge tonight that in future council work sessions, this council will begin to address these issues, and how as a community we can heal, and face up to the higher calling of confronting the evils of racism, no matter the findings of this investigation.”
Osagie, an African-American man diagnosed with autism, was shot and killed when three State College police officers were attempting to serve a mental health warrant at his apartment along Old Boalsburg Road. According to an affidavit, Osagie was shot after he brandished a knife, didn’t obey verbal commands to put the knife down, and “came after the officers.”
The investigation into Osagie’s death was immediately handed over to state police and the Centre County District Attorney’s Office.
State police have completed interviews with everyone identified as having knowledge of the incident, District Attorney Bernie Cantorna’s office said in a release Tuesday. The evidence has been processed and sent to the Pennsylvania State Police crime lab in Harrisburg for testing. Results of that analysis and forensic testing, as well as a final autopsy report, are pending, Cantorna’s office said.
Once all reports are received, Cantorna said he will complete his investigation and report back to the families involved, as well as to the public.
“I do not know what happened in this tragedy or what the outcome will be — but this process must be transparent,” Myers said. “This is now in the hands of the Pennsylvania State Police and the Centre County District Attorney, and I call on them to be as forthcoming as possible and release the information they have gathered as soon as possible.”
As borough Manager Tom Fountaine began to echo Myers’ opening comments Monday evening, nearly four minutes into the council meeting, a man entered the chambers with a paper sign hanging from his neck, singing “God Bless the Child.” He was followed by six others, also with signs around their necks, who handed out similar papers to council members and others in the room. Another stood at the door, recording with a video camera.
“We are here to demand justice for Osaze Osagie. We are not here to be negotiated with,” said the man, who identified himself and his group only as #WeAreNot. “If you have questions about who we are, first know that if our demands are not met, then the protests will continue indefinitely. The demonstrations will continue indefinitely.”
Their demands, outlined on the pieces of paper they had brought with them, consisted of:
- The firing and charging of police officers in charge
- Community oversight of the investigation
- Complete transparency of the event
- Funds and resources provided to the family for grief counseling and support
The protesters proceeded to lie down on the floor, representing dead bodies, in the form of a “die-in.” They then turned on a recording of audio relating to the killing of black men by police in the United States, followed by music.
As the protesters lay on the ground, Myers said council was receptive to conversation and ideas about how to move forward after the shooting, but that if members were not able to continue with their order of business — which included review and consideration of Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance and a long-range transportation plan — they would have to adjourn.
“I know folks have come forward with some points that they believe are very important, and I think that members of this community, including this council, would agree with some of those,” he said. “So in order for us to continue to go forward, we need to continue to have a discussion, we need to have some of those folks come forward here and speak in the public hour, or we’ll have to adjourn the meeting.”
After a few minutes went by and the protesters didn’t budge, Myers ended the meeting, and C-NET stopped recording. Some council members reportedly stayed in the chambers while the protest continued for about 20 additional minutes.
The protest lasted for 29 minutes overall. Councilman Dan Murphy said he was told by protestors that the length of the demonstration was intentionally set to represent the claim, frequently used in the Black Lives Matter movement, that a black person claiming self-defense is shot and killed by police or security every 28 hours in the U.S. An extra minute was added to represent Osagie’s age, Murphy said.
“I understand where the protest comes from what and what its roots are,” Myers told the Centre Daily Times. “I’m not so much concerned that the meeting was disrupted; I’m more concerned about how this shooting has disrupted our community. I believe it’s important we have a dialogue on all of these issues.”
Council plans to discuss the issues raised by community members in the wake of the shooting at a future work session, and come up with a plan for how to start addressing them, Myers said.
“Protesters have talked about council having a leadership role, and we need to and want to do that,” he said. “We need to plan quickly how we want to do that, because that is our role, and we can’t shirk our responsibility.”