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Q&A with State College Mayor Ron Filippelli, on efforts toward racial equity

by on July 02, 2020 9:48 AM

It’s been an eventful stretch since Ron Filippelli was sworn-in as State College mayor in December.

Filippelli, the ceremonial head of the municipality and something of a public ambassador, has helped the borough respond to the coronavirus pandemic and the heightened calls for racial equity following George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis.

The State College mayor has joined protesters seeking reform in the wake of Floyd’s death, which came nearly 15 months after the fatal shooting of Osaze Osagie by State College police sparked local calls for action.

Filippelli answered questions from Town&Gown about his views on the matter, and what actions the borough has taken.

 

T&G: In the wake of George Floyd’s death, you joined peaceful protesters and issued a statement saying you would “not be a silent bystander nor fail to act.” What actions does that entail for you?

Filippelli: As a spokesperson for the borough, I intend to continue to voice my strong opinion that black lives matter and that the borough’s policies are in the forefront of that movement to end systemic discrimination against people of color.

T&G: What do you see as the most important steps the borough has taken to address racial equity, policing, and mental health since the death of Osaze Osagie?

Filippelli: (Listed the following measures)

Task Force on Mental Health Crisis Services

Centre County and the borough jointly established the Task Force on Mental Health Crisis Services to help explore, develop, and implement changes to the mental health system in place within the county. The task force, which consists of 31 community members, is tasked with examining the continuum of mental health crisis services, including:

  • Mobile crisis services
  • Delegate crisis services
  • Involuntary commitment warrant procedures
  • Police officers’ role in responding to mental health calls and 302 warrant procedures
  • Emergency department procedures
  • Post-emergency department services

The work of the Mental Health Task Force has been delayed by the death of the initial task force chair in November 2019 and by the COVID-19 pandemic. The task force has now resumed work and a report with recommendations is expected fall 2020.

International Association of Chiefs of Police Policy Evaluation

The borough has also contracted with the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) to conduct a systematic evaluation of the operation of the SCPD. The consultants, who are nearing the completion of their work, are conducting a comprehensive and independent assessment of the Police Department’s critical policies, practices, and procedures and will provide actionable recommendations for improvement.

The work of the IACP consultants was delayed by COVID-19; however, a final report with recommendations from the IACP is expected by the end of July or sooner.

Race, Equity, and Leadership (REAL)

The borough has contracted with the National League of Cities’ Race Equity and Leadership (REAL) for an 18-month engagement to assist the borough in the following areas:

  • Train elected officials and municipal staff on how to analyze policies through the lens of racial equity.
  • Connect the community to local voices throughout the region who specialize in racial equity and healing.
  • Develop a local racial equity plan for action.
  • Facilitate the necessary solutions that address the unique local challenges.

The REAL Team was in State College on January 27 to begin this work; however, the follow-up meetings scheduled for March and April were postponed due to COVID-19. Borough staff and the REAL project team are working to revise the project schedule. It is expected the REAL work, beginning with training, will resume in July. 

Resolution 1258

Councilman Dan Murphy introduced Resolution 1258 … in Response to and in Solidarity with Those Demanding Racial Justice, Equity, and Action at the Borough Council meeting on June 15.

Council had scheduled a special meeting on June 23 (after T&G’s press time) to discuss and take possible action on Resolution 1258. (Editor's note: The resolution passed unanimously.)

T&G: Overall, are we making progress in this community in addressing racial equity?

Filippelli: I believe that we have a long way to go. The matters under discussion now before Borough Council will launch an even greater effort, but this time it must be different. We cannot return to business as usual. I am committed to this, as is Borough Council and borough administration.

T&G: On a systemic level, what needs to change in the short term? In the longer term?

Filippelli: In the short term, we need to listen and learn from those that are impacted and get their unique insights on what we can do to resolve these issues. All the work that we’re doing as an organization is to get input and make the changes to ensure the Borough of State College provides services equitably to our residents. Those are things we can do right now.

In the longer term, we need to stay vigilant and continually explore ways to make our community more equitable. It is great to have so many people that care about our community reach out and share their thoughts; however, we need to be willing to listen and change.

T&G: What can community members who want to make a difference do?

Filippelli: If you are white, on a personal level, ask yourselves honestly how have you benefited in so many ways from an accident of birth, and how can you use that recognition to give African Americans and other minorities the same opportunities and respect that you enjoy? I encourage community members to also become more active in local government and civic activities, where so many decisions that affect other lives are made.

 

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