State College Screams “Black Lives Matter”

Protesters+gather+in+downtown+State+College%2C+wearing+masks+and+holding+signs.+One+sign+reads+%22They+system+is+not+broken.+It+was+built+this+way.%22

Protesters gather in downtown State College, wearing masks and holding signs. One sign reads "They system is not broken. It was built this way."

Elisa Edgar, Staff Writer

On Sunday, May 31st, a crowd of up to 1,500 people took the streets of downtown State College to protest police brutality and the unfair targeting of Black Americans. They congregated across from The Corner Room, and what started as just a handful of teenagers and adults alike, grew into a sea of masks and signs. At 1 pm, the protest began to march against the flow of traffic, signs held high, chanting phrases like “no justice, no peace. No racist police!” and chanting the name of George Floyd, a Black man that was recently killed in police custody in Minnesota. 

This protest is part of a national movement calling for justice reform and fighting police brutality, but it is also very local. 16 year old State High student Lily Hasan organized the entire demonstration. Furthermore, along with names like George Floyd that the world has come to recognize, Osaze Osagie was a name that hit close to home for many when chanted in the streets. In March of 2019, a 29-year-old African American man diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, anxiety, and Asperger’s syndrome was killed in a fatal encounter with police after being shot four times. Although his family sued the State College Police department for not following standard mental health crisis procedure, all officers were exonerated. “Osaze would still be alive today if the police had followed standard procedures for handling mental health emergencies,” one of his attorneys, Andrew Celli Jr. said. “This tragic loss of life didn’t have to happen; Osaze Osagie did not have to die.”

After walking through the streets of downtown, everyone was called to kneel on Beaver Avenue. Protesters kneeled and laid down on the hard concrete of the street. “Now imagine a knee pressing on your neck!” shouted a woman who held the microphone. The street was consumed with hundreds of voices screaming “I can’t breathe”. The protest ended around 4 pm at the police department. This demonstration echoed countless others across the country, sparked by multiple stories of police brutality and the suffering of Black Americans which has been televised and recently broadcasted via social media. The entirety of the demonstration remained peaceful; something that was stressed by many speakers during the event.

Although State College was lucky to have a protest without incident, the reason for violence across the country should not be forgotten. Rioting and violence is not ideal. It was nobody’s first choice. However, without the rioting and back to back media coverage of those riots, the murderer of George Floyd would not have faced as swift or even any repercussions. After Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated, 110 American cities started rioting, causing $47 million in damage. On the sixth day of the riots, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was passed. The justice system has taught America that in order to get results, violence is necessary. When speaking about the violence that has occurred in light of deaths like Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, onlookers should be reminded to criticize the system, not the people who are simply trapped in its game. 

Throughout the day, microphones and loudspeakers passed from person to person as a diverse set of voices and stories were heard. Many times, the cry of “Let Black people speak” was heard, encouraging that white protesters would not take over the narrative or speak over the voices that should be lifted to the front. “There are real issues here. Whether you like it or not, we are here, this is a systemic issue. It’s not just police brutality,” said a Black demonstrator to the sea of people sitting outside the police department. “There are police killing us, yes, at a disproportionate rate, yes, but tell me why small Black businesses can’t get any business loans? This system is rigged for us to fail from the bottom up, it is not just in police brutality. Tell me why Black women are dying at a disproportionate rate when it comes to childbirth? How many NFL, NBA, you love watching these, how many Black owners are there? How many head coaches? It really breaks my heart because this is my home.” 

The theme of accountability came up again and again. Students of State College Area High School benefit from Black content and culture every day. It’s in the music they love, the clothes they wear, and the sports they obsess over. And yet, when it comes to the part of Black America that is not so comfortable or easy to talk about, silence is often loudest. As protestors heard repeatedly today, it is not enough to not be racist, people must be anti-racist. To be anti-racist goes beyond what is demonstrated on your Instagram page. Often, what happens behind closed doors, among close friends, and within group chats, is far more telling. One man who had the microphone preached holding each other accountable as he addressed police officers present. “Our main issue isn’t with you here,” he explained, “but you need to take the strength that you have, the goodness of your heart, and just like we expect the scientists that we hold up as great individuals, you need to peer review each other’s work. You need to review each other’s work now.” As protesters asked police officers to hold each other accountable, it is also vital that students of State High will alike hold each other accountable for ignorance and silence. 

As the conversation continued and more people stepped to speak, it became clear that this gathering was not just about names like Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Anthony Hill, Sandra Bland, and any other victims of the United States that don’t have the luxury of being remembered. Racism is present in State College, it’s present in State High, and it feeds off of a system that was built to support it. An African-American mother reminded protesters how our education system has failed people of color even today. “How many of you have looked up ‘how many killings were there of Black people’ in this city? Is that part of your college search, if you’re a senior? I have a senior. How many of you are trying at this very time to encourage him that he’s going to go into this world and be great and be successful and he could be anything that he could be despite the fact that I’m looking at this invisible target on his back, and praying at night that I’m not lying to my son? How do you think that resonates in our soul after a while?” she asked the crowd. Nearly every single Black person, male or female, that approached the mic shared sentiments of exhaustion. The phrase “we are tired” was repeated endlessly, because the exhaustion of racism takes a physical toll on the human body. According to studies at NPR, “living with racism acts like sort of low-grade microtraumas that can end up hurting you and your biology. It’s not just having your feelings hurt. It’s having your biology hurt as well.”

The mother continued sharing her experience in schools with her Black children. “Even in a school system where your kid has to go through puberty, and girls, and all these extra things, they also have to go through whether they will be called the n-word or be pointed out as different. Or a teacher telling me ‘you need to stop teaching him so much, he’s getting a little too far ahead of the other children’ to my face.”

 A man shouted from the crowd in response, “They want us to be dumb!”

 “Right,” she responded, “but that’s not gonna happen. I refuse. It’s up to us, and it’s up to all of you. It’s not just our job. If your brother or sister is wrong, you call them out.” To become comfortable with being uncomfortable is the only way to create change in this society and within hearts. For those who care about and love this country, who care about and love their friends, it is essential that everyone is held accountable, and friends keep each other in check. 

State High, just like any high school, is not immune. As State High student Andre Marshall pointed out while taking the microphone, there is only one full-time Black teacher in a school with an African-American principal. “Curtis, I love you to death, but you need to do better,” Marshall said. At school, groups that have formed to report racial aggressions and create a conversation around racism have been formed by students themselves, not faculty. To take the sentiments of this protest into everyday life, change must be demanded locally, not just nationally. 

“We’re asking that you finally see,” said a woman to the crowd. “The pandemic had us all sitting still and paying attention to what has been going on. This is not new. You were just too busy to see it. So we’re just asking you guys to not get blinded again.” 

The action that she asked of everyone present; to continue to be active after the hashtags, the protest, or the news cycle, must be met. 

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