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Removal Of Memorial For Black Lives Sparks Backlash; Borough Officials Apologize

Borough officials apologized on Monday night after a community-created memorial for Black men and women killed by police was removed from the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza in downtown State College.

The “Memorial for Black Lives,” consisting of a variety of items placed by community members in front of the mural at the plaza, was removed by borough clean-up crews on Sunday, a day after the site served as the location for one of several local celebrations of Juneteenth commemorating the emancipation of the last remaining enslaved African Americans.

After discovering the memorial had been discarded, some community members expressed outrage on social media and in comments during Monday’s borough council meeting.

Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said he became aware on Monday afternoon that the memorial had been removed.

“We regret that this happened,” Fountaine said. “It was unintentional and we made a commitment to help rebuild the memorial as it was with those in the community. We understand that there are many in the community that are hurt, upset about this, and we do apologize for this very unfortunate event. We will work with them going forward.”

The memorial was spearheaded by the 3/20 Coalition, the advocacy group formed following the fatal shooting of Osaze Osagie by a State College police officer in 2019. It included photos, signs, flowers, candles, and stuffed animals with tributes to Osagie, Breonna Taylor, Adam Toledo, Ma’Khia Bryant, Daunte Wright, and George Floyd.

Community members had already begun replacing items at the mural by Monday night. The memorial will be rededicated at 8 p.m. on Tuesday.

Speaking during public comment on Monday night, longtime civil rights activist and borough resident Charles Dumas was supportive of Fountaine’s apology.

“I think these are very difficult times that we’re in,” Dumas said. “We’re in transitional times all over the borough, all over the country, in fact, all over the world. We all know that. I’d like to support Tom’s apology because I think that kind of humility is one of the things we’re going to need to get through this process.”

3/20 Coalition leaders were less forgiving.

“The things that truly matter in regards to the fight for Black lives is not only showing up. It is who we are as partners and allies when the cameras are off, the work that actually gets done and genuine representation,” Coalition Secretary Melanie Morrison said. “No sooner had the cameras left from the many Juneteenth celebrations and a borough sanctioned cleanup crew was there ready to take down the memorial which had been up long before Juneteenth and was intended to remain as a tribute. Had there truly been any issues with the memorial, we were open to being contacted.”

Coalition Co-Chair Tierra Williams, a Ferguson Township supervisor candidate, said she and other members met personally with Fountaine but was not satisfied with his response that the removal was not intentional and that the memorial had decaying flowers and water-damaged items.

“The thought that someone could consciously look at a site in honor of the dead, and place it in the trash, is beyond me,” Williams said. “The fact that anyone could instruct someone to ‘clean up’ a memorial sight is even more disturbing.”

Council President Jesse Barlow also apologized on behalf of the borough.

“That should not have been done without consulting with the groups that put those memorials down,” Barlow said. “In the future, we need to be sensitive to that, especially with regard to marginalized groups expressing memorials to people who have lost their lives to police violence and other violence.”

Removal of the memorial was “more than just unfortunate,” Councilman Evan Myers said.

“I think this borough, its government, its representatives must do a better job not just recognizing marginalized groups but to be active participants in providing safe spaces for those groups to voice their just concerns and aspirations,” Myers said.

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About the Author

Geoff Rushton (StateCollege.com)

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

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