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Osaze Osagie’s Death One Year Later

The 3/20 Coalition announced that it will postpone the memorial march it originally scheduled to take place in downtown State College Friday to mark the one-year anniversary of Osaze Osagie’s death. However, although Osagie’s memorial has been postponed, his death has still impacted the State College community during the past year.

Osagie was fatally shot by a State College Police officer serving a “302” mental health at his Old Boalsburg Road apartment last March. The coalition was formed to “seek justice” for Osagie and his family.

The march, which was set to progress from the Allen Street Gates and to the State College Municipal Building and conclude with a brief ceremony featuring singers, speakers, and the laying of flowers at his apartment building.

“Osaze’s death shocked and hurt our small community; it left us reeling. We are still grieving his loss and awaiting meaningful reform. The march, along with the additional scheduled community events, is an opportunity for us all to come together to heal and unify our community,” Leslie Laing, member of the Community Diversity Group, NAACP, and Mental Health Task Force, said in the original release.

Although organizers postponed the march and all public events due to the coronavirus pandemic, 3/20 Coalition Secretary Melanie Morrison said that the coalition planned to “use social media to the best of our ability to memorialize Osaze and share his story” and hold events at a later date when it is safe to do so.

During the past year, some progress has been made in terms of raising awareness for the need for better racial and mental health relations in State College. However, some community members believe more work remains to be done. One major step forward could come through a lawsuit involving Osagie’s family and State College Police.

District Attorney Bernie Cantorna and an internal investigation of the shooting conducted by the State College Police Department both cleared the officers involved in the shooting of wrongdoing. Cantorna said that the use of force following the use of a taser was justified because officers were in a “life-and-death situation” when Osagie approached them with a steak knife.

Community members have frequently protested the results of these reports, claiming that the department’s procedures related to responding to mental health issues and responding to racial bias are flawed. Protestors have also called for increased consideration of a diverse range of community input for the Borough and increased transparency from its police department, among other initiatives. Several vigils were also organized following Osagie’s death.

The State College Borough Council allocated $200,000 in funding toward three initiatives in response to Osagie’s death. They included the creation of a mental health task force for Centre County, an external review of State College Police Department Policy, and the creation of a racial equity plan with the help of the National League of Cities’ Race and Equity Leadership (REAL) team.

Council approved the contracting of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) to conduct the review, and was recently updated on the mental health task force’s progress.

Iyunolu and Sylvester Osagie, Osaze Osagie’s parents, addressed Council in September, and said that “many questions” remained surrounding the circumstances that lead to their son’s death, and said that he was failed by the Borough’s mental health processes and police procedures. They criticized the way in which officers served the warrant in a way that lead to a close-proximity encounter, and said that the report’s conclusion surrounding implicit bias was unclear.

The Osagies announced their intent to sue the State College Police Department and the officers involved in the shooting later that month, citing a “system breakdown in the operation of the SCPD and their failure to follow basic safety procedures for interacting with mentally ill people.” 

Several community artists have created projects in memory of Osagie, including an art exhibit in the HUB titled “Osaze was a Freedom Fighter” and a play by Penn State professor, actor, and playwright Charles Dumas titled “Osaze Remembering.”

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About the Author

Jim Davidson

Jim is a junior English and history major and the features editor for Onward State. He, like most of the Penn State undergraduate population, is from 'just outside Philadelphia,' and grew up in Spring City, Pennsylvania. He covers a variety of Penn State topics, but spends nine months of every year waiting for the start of soccer season. You can reach him via email at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @messijim.

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