More than 1,000 State College community members rallied and marched through downtown on Sunday afternoon to protest racial injustice and police brutality against the black community in the wake of the recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
The peaceful four-hour event was spurred by the death of Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, on Monday in Minneapolis, which has sparked protests and riots in the Twin Cities and elsewhere around the country. A white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as two others held Floyd down and another watched. Chauvin, who has been charged with third degree murder, continued kneeling after Floyd said he could not breathe and for nearly three minutes after Floyd became unresponsive. All four officers were fired.
Floyd, who was unarmed, had been accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli.
Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old black man, was shot and killed after being chased down by two white men on Feb. 23 in Brunswick, Georgia. Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman and emergency medical technician, was fatally shot by Louisville, Kentucky police officers who entered her home while serving a no-knock warrant at the wrong address, during a narcotics investigation in which a suspect had already been taken into custody.
Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com
In State College, the rally was organized by State College Area High School student Lilyana Hasan. At noon, community members gathered on both sides of College Avenue at South Allen Street, joining in chants and listening to speakers.
Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com
"It did not start with George Floyd. It did not start this week in Minneapolis," said Nanre Nafziger. "It started with the dehumanization of black human beings in this country with slavery and it continues today... Why do they feel they can kill a black man with impunity. Why do they feel they can get away with murder? Because this society has placed some human beings above other human beings. We say, no more."
Nanre Nafziger speaks near the Allen Street Gates.Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com
Former Penn State men's basketball forward Lamar Stevens was among the speakers as well.
"We're fighting for each other, and equal rights," Stevens said. "If you don't understand what it's like being black, then it's time to start asking questions. It's time to start educating yourself about what it's like, being a kid and having my mom hug me like it's the last time she's going to see me, every single time I walk out the door."
State College Mayor Ron Filippelli also spoke at the rally, calling it "the right cause" and imploring those in attendance to "commit to staying with the cause." Filippelli later issued a statement calling for continued action against "systematic racism that continues to exist in our country."
Protestors gathered in the street and marched east on College Avenue, then south on McAllister Street and west on Beaver Avenue. At the 200 block of West Beaver Avenue, they sat as speakers and chants continued for about a half hour, at one point lying down in the road for a moment of silence and to recount how Floyd died.
Protestors lie down in the middle of West Beaver Avenue during the Justice for George Floyd rally in State College. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com
State College police blocked off roadways to vehicle traffic along the way.
The march then headed down South Burrowes Street and onto College Avenue before traveling down Allen Street to the State College Municipal building, where dozens more spoke throughout the afternoon, including numerous high school and Penn State students, along with other community members.
Among them was Penn State football player CJ Thorpe, who gave an emotional speech in which he discussed the anger black men and women are feeling, the pride he has in his skin color, and how he is more than his skin color.
"It's hard. I know it is hard for you to step back out of your own pride, out of your own anger out of your own fear… All I ask is that we stay smart, that we use our brains, that we use love," he said. "We have so much hatred going around. You can’t fight hate with hate, man."
C.J. Thorpe speaks outside of the State College Municipal Building. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com
Tierra Williams said it is important that black voices are at the forefront of the issue and urged white people to recognize that racism comes in many forms.
"Racism comes in many shapes, forms and sizes. Just because you choose not to use the n-word doesn’t make you any less of a racist as someone who does…," she said. "Understand that I am black and I am proud. And I know a lot of people can understand that and are just as proud as I am. And in being proud, I don’t need you to desensitize when I tell you you’re doing something that’s racist. When I tell you that your euphemisms are microgressions. I don’t need you to explain how many black friends you have, how many black neighborhoods you’ve been to or how many rap songs you know.What I care about is the next time you see somebody following that random black girl or black boy around Walmart you step up and say something."
Tierra Williams speaks outside of the State College Municipal Building. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com
Multiple speakers discussed Osaze Osagie among the black men and women who have been killed by police. Osagie was shot and killed during a confrontation with State College police officers who had come to his apartment to serve a mental health warrant. Following an investigation by Pennsylvania State Police, the Centre County District Attorney's Office concluded the shooting was justified.
The rally concluded at about 4 p.m.
"Today was about Black Lives Matter and the support from everyone who came is amazing," Hasan said. "We need that same support for every other oppressed person in America the same way we did it today, with peace and unity and acceptance, because that it how to make a change. Today we made a change. We got together and spoke out. And remember it doesn’t stop here. Go out of your way every single day to fight for equality."