Demonstrators interrupt State College Borough Council meeting
During the opening minutes of the State College Borough Council’s April 8 work session, a group of eight people walked in, announced they were there to “demand justice for Osaze Osagie,” handed out a list of four demands, and proceeded to stage a “die-in” by lying down in the council chambers for nearly a half-hour.
Council had to adjourn its meeting early.
Five days later, about 30 people associated with the group, styling itself #WeAreNot, held another silent protest and die-in at Penn State’s Lion Shrine, during Blue-White weekend, one of the busiest times of the year for photos in front of the iconic statue.
Why? To create disruption, said Penn State graduate student Gabriel Green, a spokesperson for the group.
Osagie, a 29-year-old black man diagnosed with autism, was shot and killed March 20 when three State College police officers attempted to serve a mental health warrant at his home along Old Boalsburg Road. He brandished a knife, ignored several commands to drop it and “came after the (borough) officers,” according to a filing from state police at Rockview.
“Until our demands have been met, and until the structural changes have been made where they need to, business as usual cannot proceed,” Green told the Centre Daily Times on behalf of the group. “We are not to be negotiated with. We are not here for negotiation.”
The demands, outlined on pieces of paper group members hand out at demonstrations, are:
- The firing and charging of police officers involved
- Community oversight of the investigation
- Complete transparency of the event
- Funds and resources provided to the family for grief counseling and support
The group, which Green described as “concerned citizens,” is not representative of a particular organization, but just comprises individuals who he said are upset and concerned over the shooting.
State College immediately handed the investigation over to the 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.
As the investigation continues, multiple community meetings and dialogues have been held, plans have been made for borough task forces on addressing the role police play in responding to mental health crises as well as policing communities of color, and a borough office of equity and inclusion has been proposed.
Yet for #WeAreNot, the demonstrations are to bring to light some of the issues they see underneath the guise of “Happy Valley,” and to push for structural change, beyond initial reactions, Green said.
“We’re not interested in the different ways that a lot of these matters get skirted behind the rug, pushed aside or presented in a matter of ‘this is not State College, this is not Happy Valley,’ ” he said. “We are folks who are against that narrative that’s out there: ‘That’s not us, we’re Happy Valley, we’re State College, we’re this nice little liberal bastion of progressivism.’ “
By enforcing the “Happy Valley” mantra, and pouring time and effort into showcasing the positives in the community, Green said marginalized voices can often be forgotten.
“There’s a lot of people who have a lot invested in that idea of State College being this really great place, and part of what happens when you have so much invested in State College being this great place is that you end up not listening to folks who are having terrible experiences here — whether it be women dealing with sexual assault, folks of color dealing with racism and microaggressions, or toxic masculinity,” he said. “That’s happening here and nobody wants to take a look at it and see, nobody really wants to wrestle with it, and so that’s part of where our message is coming from.”
Council President Evan Myers invited the demonstrators to speak and engage in dialogue at the April 8 meeting. He repeated his invitation at Monday’s council meeting, saying, “We have to go down this road together, it’s the only way we can solve it.”
But for #WeAreNot, they believe they’ve already said what they need to say with their list of demands.
“We are very clear, we are very straightforward in what we’re saying we want, what we demand,” Green said. “They’re not topics for discussion, not issues of question or clarification.
“If those demands aren’t met, the demonstrations will continue indefinitely.”