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Community Content: ‘Graverobbers’

May 25, 2020, was one of the most chilling days this country has seen in my lifetime. A father, a son, a Black father, a Black son, a Black man, was beaten, suffocated, and murdered in broad daylight by the “Boys in Blue”. This was recorded, and America bared witness to a public lynching. This not only sparked a national movement but an awakening in the consciousness of the American people. This inspired new organizations to form around the world and reignited the 3/20 Coalition, a grassroots organization created after the murder of Osaze Osagie by the State College Police Department on March 20, 2019, while attempting to serve a mental health warrant.

This experience lit a new fire under the 3/20 Coalition to continue to seek justice for Osaze Osagie. Through protests, die-ins, demonstrations, and public statements, we were able to demand a Community Oversight Board, a Mental Health Task Force, and elect local activists into political office. On May 25, 2021, the Coalition felt it was necessary to acknowledge and remember ‘the day the world saw George Floyd die’, and honor those who were slain but never fully received justice. The Memorial for Black Lives was set up in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza Mural. It included flowers, candles, signs, posters, affirmations, and teddy bears. Most importantly, pictures of, in the words of our former Co-Chair Nanre Nafziger, “our heroes, our soldiers, our slain.” The Remembered included Osaze Osagie, Breonna Taylor, Adam Toledo, Ma’Khia Bryant, Daunte Wright, and George Floyd.

Just a few days ago, Juneteenth was signed in as a federal holiday and celebrations were happening all across the United States, including here in “Happy Valley”. Celebrations started on Friday and went all the way through Monday night. Simultaneously, the State College Borough Maintenance was told to “clean up” after the Saturday Juneteenth event. By Sunday, the Memorial for Black Lives was desecrated, vandalized, removed from the premises, and placed in the trash.

There are still no words to explain the pain I felt upon arriving at the memorial on the morning of June 21. The thought that someone could consciously look at a site in honor of the dead, and place it in the trash, is beyond me. The fact that anyone could instruct someone to ‘clean up’ a memorial sight is even more disturbing.

I wonder, if those were six white faces, would the memorial have been touched? Would the workers have seen themselves in those photos and felt empathetic? In 1964, Ella Baker said, “Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.” If those photos were of white men, young white girls, white children, would it have made a difference?

At approximately 1 p.m. on June 21, myself and two other Coalition members walked down to the Borough office. Aside from the receptionist calling us “girl” twice even after being corrected the first time (and having to file a complaint with human resources), we were told that the memorial was indeed removed in its entirety by the Borough due to the “decaying flowers”.

I later spoke with Tom Fountaine, the borough manager, who said a multitude of things. He insisted that this was not “intentional” and was “bad timing” after Juneteenth. I then asked him, “If we cannot place a memorial under the one place in State College named after a Black man then where are we ‘allowed’ to grieve and heal at? Where is that suitable in the borough?” He then said, “There isn’t anywhere in the borough that allows us to remember the dead except a graveyard”. He also stated, “We let it stay up for a long time”.

Let it?

As if we need your permission to memorialize the dead. Aside from the apology and persistent notion that he had nothing to do with the removal, he then explained how there were molded teddy bears, water in candles, wilted cardboard, and, let’s not forget, the decaying flowers. My question to you, Tom Fountaine, is: How can you know so much about the state of a memorial if you did not instruct to have it cleaned up? How long did you know the flowers were decaying? How long were the teddy bears molded? How can you know so much and, at the same time, tell me you have not spoken to the workers who removed it?

As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.” The borough has not only desecrated a sacred ground, but has shown the entire community that Black lives really don’t matter here and that those murdered by the police can be picked up and thrown in the trash at any given moment. And as long as there are dead flowers around to justify it, it’s OK.

We will RECLAIM, REBUILD, and REDEDICATE our space. Don’t touch it.

This post, written by Tierra Williams, was submitted entirely independently as part of our community content program. You could have your content published on Onward State by submitting it here.

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About the Author

Tierra Williams

Tierra D. Williams is a local activist, poet, and performer. She is currently chair of the 3/20 Coalition and is seeking election to Ferguson Township's Board of Supervisors. Williams also hosts "Black Tea," an online show focused on discussing racial disparities with the aim of creating change.

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