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3/20 Coalition Seeks Response to Demands

by on June 11, 2020 4:45 PM

About 20 members of the 3/20 Coalition gathered at the State College Municipal Building for two hours on Thursday to present demands for changes to local policing to borough officials.

The coalition was formed following the death of Osaze Osagie, a 29-year-old black man who was shot and killed on March 20, 2019 during a confrontation with State College police officers who came to his apartment to serve a mental health warrant.

After an investigation by Pennsylvania State Police, District Attorney Bernie Cantorna concluded the shooting was justified, finding that the officer who killed Osagie was in a life-or-death situation when Osagie charged at him with a knife in a narrow hallway. Sgt. William Slaton, of the state police Heritage Affairs Section, said there was no evidence of racial bias involved in the incident.

3/20 Coalition members say they reject those findings, and over the past year have called for multiple changes to the police department and how mental health warrants are served, as well as the naming and firing of the officer who fired the fatal shots.

The coalition organized Sunday's "Justice for Black Lives" demonstration in downtown State College, the second in as many weeks to draw more than a thousand people and part of a nationwide movement of protests and calls for action against police brutality and racial injustice following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Osagie was a frequent focus of Sunday's protest, where the coalition's demands were read twice.

Another protest, supported but not organized by the coalition, is scheduled for noon on Sunday.

"We wanted to have a core group of us come down here, reassert the demands, which will of course be echoed on Sunday, as well as have somebody actually come and take them from us," coalition member Melanie Morrison said. "We wanted that physical transfer. We wanted that acknowledgement."

Their demands are:

1. Implementation of a community advisory board to address instances of discrimination, bias and racism in State College government and police

2. Divestment of guns during the service of mental health checks and mental health warrants

3. Revision to standard operating procedures to emphasize de-escalation strategies to be used during engagement, and consequences for failure to use those strateges.

4. Public access to officer misconduct information and disciplinary history when death results 

5. Public release of protocol and body camera footage for officers accused of misuse of force and race-based policing  

6. A ban on the use of knee-holds and chokeholds

7. Release of the names of all officers involved in all shootings and the firing of the officer who killed Osagie 

8. Financial compensation to the Osagie family

9. Transparency and the release of policing data regarding policing with special attention to race and ethnicity

10.  A reallocation of funding away from the State College Police Department to programs that address root causes of suffering and violence, and provide benefit to public well-being and safety.

Borough Manager Tom Fountaine came to the municipal building lobby to speak with coalition members. Mayor Ron Filippelli then spoke to them by speaker phone and coalition members read the demands to him.

"We’ve been working and coming to borough council meetings for well over a year saying all the same things, asserting for the community oversight review board," Morrison said. "All of these things are things the coalition has continued to say and have continued to not receive action on these particular items. We’re aware of the mayor’s kind of figurehead status, but still that acknowledgement is important."

The coalition wants a response to its demands from the borough by next Thursday, June 18, and members will be at the municipal building again that day.

Filippelli's only formal powers as mayor are presiding over borough council meetings and the ability to veto ordinances. He did, however, ask for the list of demands to be emailed to him and said he would discuss them with the council.

He spoke briefly at the "Justice for George Floyd" demonstration on May 31 in State College and issued a statement calling for continued action against "systematic racism that continues to exist in our country."

Douglas Shontz, assistant to the borough manager, said on Thursday the borough did not have a formal comment on the coalition's demands and referred to Filippelli's May 31 statement.

The borough has undertaken several measures since Osagie's death to address issues of race and mental health, including partnering with the county on a mental health task force, commissioning an independent assessment of police department practices and contracting with the National League of Cities Race, Equity, and Leadership (REAL) to lead an assessment, provide training and work with the borough and community members to develop a racial equity plan. State College also is reviewing the 2016 report by the Task Force on Policing and Communities of Color to determine how to act on recommendations that have not already been implemented.

But coalition members have said that their demands over the past year have gone unmet.

Morrison, who has been among the coalition members regularly speaking to borough officials and council members since last year, said she is hopeful, but that the group will continue to advocate for the changes they are seeking for as long as it takes.

"It’s a step. We continue to have hope but we continue to take action," she said. "I think it’s important to do both, because this is not an easy process. It’s not going to happen quickly. We’ve been here for a year and we’re going to continue to be here. We’re going to continue to advocate for growth and change and acknowledgement of what that will take. This is a step and I think we’re feeling more heard than we have in the past, but also we have shown we can get those numbers. We can mobilize people in this community, that there are more than just the couple core members of our group that care about this."



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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