Nearly a month after the March 20 officer-involved shooting death of 29-year-old Osaze Osagie, State College Borough Council announced its first set of potential actions to begin addressing some of the issues brought to light by the incident.
When State College police officers attempted to serve a mental health warrant at Osagie’s apartment along Old Boalsburg Road, he brandished a knife, ignored several commands to drop it and “came after the (borough) officers,” according to a court filing from state police at Rockview.
The death of Osagie, a black man diagnosed with autism, has brought mental health and race issues to the forefront, as residents have voiced their concerns through various community meetings, protests and demands for action from Borough Council and the administration.
“I want to spend a couple of minutes, as I said I would, outlining potential items that the manager, the mayor and I, along with some others on this council and on the outside, put together of possible things this council and community can take to begin to heal and to bring up the issues of mental illness,” Council President Evan Myers said, as he began Monday night’s meeting. “And most importantly to address the topic of racism in our community and understand how that impacts our local institutions and interactions and what we can start to do about it.”
First among the items mentioned by Myers was the continued effort by borough administration, council and police officials to meet with “diverse segments of the community” to listen and respond to concerns.
“This includes examining the overall response to those suffering from mental illness and the role police play in that response, as well as the relationship between police and communities of color,” Myers said.
In an effort to address those two issues, Myers said, the borough is working to organize two new groups, including a campus-community partnership with Penn State to build upon the work Task Force on Policing Communities of Color completed in 2016.
Additionally, the borough is evaluating the creation of an office of equity and inclusion.
“In addition to many other responsibilities, the office of equity and inclusion can help the borough achieve its goal of having a diverse workforce, including diverse police department,” Myers said.
Myers also again committed council to dedicating future public work sessions to discussing how the borough can address “its commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity for all persons in the community.”
Protesters who interrupted an April 8 work session did not return Monday, but concern over the events that transpired March 20 remains present in the community, as evidenced by the long line of people wishing to speak before council during the public hour. To ensure each person got a chance to speak, Mayor Don Hahn worked a stopwatch mounted to the wall behind him, giving each speaker four minutes.
Speakers got emotional, talking about personal experiences with their own children of color or with mental illness or autism, and calling for more action.
“Recognizing State College has a problem with racialized policing is a good first step, but it’s not enough,” Jennifer Black, of State College, said. “Transparency in the process is not enough. Token recruitment is not enough. Rigorous mandatory bias training is encouraged, but is certainly not enough. Structuring the way bias is recorded in the police department is necessary, but not enough. Wearing body-cams, funding them and implementing them is a start, but it’s not enough. Task forces are only as effective as their follow-through.”
She added: “It is my belief that the only thing that can work to prevent another tragic and grave event such as the one that took place on March 20 are repercussions.”
After the meeting, Myers acknowledged the frustration felt by community members who said they’ve seen task forces, trainings and community discussion before — yet the Osagie shooting still happened.
“In this community, where we’ve had these meetings, where the police have been trained, where the elected officials, the administration, the leadership and the police force themselves — the rank-and-file police members — are all sensitive to this, yet this still happened,” he said. “Think about the places that don’t do any of that stuff. Think about people who live in those communities. We can only control our community, and a lot more work needs to be done.”
Immediately after the shooting, State College handed the investigation over to state police. That agency will turn its findings over to the Centre County district attorney, who will then make the final determinations on the disposition of the report and any final conclusions.
At a Campus Community Unity meeting prior to the council meeting Monday night, state police officials Lt. Brian Ianuzzi, commander at Rockview, and Sgt. William Slaton, a commander within the Equality and Inclusion Office, gave an update on the investigation, urging patience as they wait on forensics analyses and DNA, continue to sift through data from 10 search warrants and finish additional interviews.
Myers, however, said council can’t wait for the investigative report to begin taking action.
“I’m not asking for patience,” he said. “Action needs to take place. We’re being active, we’re moving forward. I wouldn’t say ‘be patient, we’ll get to it.’ We’re getting to it, and I think that’s important. I think we have to.”