After a proposal for creation amid protests across the country in June 2020, the State College Borough Council voted unanimously in favor of establishing the Community Oversight Board on Aug. 16.
The COB was created in an effort to monitor local police activity by a civilian-led group. Advocate groups such as the 3/20 Coalition have been vocal about including the community in holding law enforcement accountable for its actions.
The 3/20 Coalition was created after the death of Osaze Osagie, a 29-year-old Black State College resident who had autism and a history of schizophrenia. He was shot and killed by State College Police officers on March 20, 2019.
When three officers arrived at Osagie’s apartment to serve a mental health warrant, Osagie allegedly ran at the officers with a knife, and after an unsuccessful attempt to use a Taser on him, he was allegedly shot by Officer M. Jordan Pieniazek. The three officers involved in the shooting have not been charged.
This was the first fatal shooting in the State College Police Department’s history.
While it feels disheartening that the COB is even necessary, it is an immense step in the right direction toward change. One death by the hands of police is one too many and the inclusion of the COB is the right start to preventing another. More eyes on law enforcement should be viewed as a positive look forward for members of the State College community.
Not only will the COB serve as a beacon of hope for community members to voice their concerns to, it also will help chip away at the proverbial “blue wall of silence.” The “wall” is an unofficial oath law enforcement officers make with one another to ignore any possible crimes fellow officers make.
For the COB to reach its full potential, it will need the cooperation of the SCPD as it will be a joint effort between both parties to see change happen in regard to legislation and the code of conduct the department follows.
Another key component to incorporating change will rely on which officials are elected into office such as State College mayor and borough council. If community members want to be represented by people who will uphold their values, the onus is on them to properly educate themselves and make their votes count.
From an overall perspective, the inclusion of the COB looks to be a source of change that is desperately needed in State College. But in this moment of positivity, there still lies a need for progression in the community.
The topic of critical race theory has become the focal point for a plethora of government officials, including State College Mayor Ron Filippelli. Filippelli announced on Aug. 17 he would not sign off on the ordinance presented by the COB due to its inclusion of CRT as a required training for board members.
His vote does not entirely affect the outcome regarding the COB — rather, it will become a law 14 days after the borough’s vote instead of immediately. However, the way in which Filippelli has gone about his explanation can be described with one word: contradiction.
Filippelli said he agrees with the majority of what CRT stands for, but it should not belong when creating laws. Either he is completely clueless on the subject and needs to educate himself better or he is simply trying to avoid stepping on any toes. Either one is not the right course of action.
Considering the borough council voted 7-0 in favor of the COB, whose toes are there to step on? It seems as though there is still no concrete argument against CRT other than making white people feel guilty. But those arguments miss the point of CRT, which is meant to realize the systemic oppression structures that have plagued the country for centuries, leading to the oppression of the Black community.
There is only one mention of CRT in the entire ordinance from the COB. For someone who essentially agrees with its meaning, it is incredibly backhanded for Filippelli to not sign the ordinance.
Saying CRT does not belong in the ordinance reveals just how ignorant Filippelli is and serves as a slap in the face to groups like the 3/20 Coalition that have been attempting to reform the police.
The idea of law comes from looking back to the past and finding a way to fix it. Something had to have occurred in order for laws to be created. CRT offers a perspective at history that can lead to laws being created.
Perhaps if Filippelli offered an explanation to what the consequences might be with the inclusion of CRT in the ordinance, some resolution could be made. But he has nothing of substance to offer. His argument is just as weakly structured as those who argue against CRT.
This is not Filippelli’s first occasion of controversy. In May 2021, he suggested the borough council should be whiter in order to represent the area in a better manner saying, “the vast majority of the residents of the three municipalities that are policed by the State College police force are these white, middle-class people who have probably not had interactions with the police force.”
Even if something is not affecting the majority of the community, does it seem right to allow the minority to suffer? Not everyone lives the same life as another.
The beginning stages for the COB should not be mired by the ignorance of Filippelli, though. Even with his paradoxical response to this subject, the efforts of community groups to act as a watchdog for the police force cannot be emphasized enough.
Daily Collegian Opinion Editor Joe Eckstein can be reached at email@example.com.