May No Act of Ours Bring Shame: The Riot That Never Should Have Happened

PSU ReactionOnward State reporter Ryan Kristobak reflects of the terrible happenings in State College, PA on the night of 9-10 November. Ryan, a Junior at Penn State majoring in Print Journalism, is from Lebanon, Pennsylvania. His original article appears here.

The Bloomsburg Daily thanks Onward State for their kind partnership and permission to repost portions of their coverage of the events at Penn State.

It is difficult for me to put into words how I feel at this moment. Having been at the Board of Trustees press conference last night, I had heard rumors that Joe Paterno would not be permitted to coach the season’s concluding matches. I immediately feared that there would be a riot, but I could have never predicted what actually transpired.

Fulfilling my journalistic duties, I immediately took to Beaver Avenue to capture what was going on. I watched students flood onto the street, shouting “Fuck Sandusky,” “Fuck the police,” and “Fuck the media.” I watched students start fires, tear down signs, and pull down street lamps as students desperately retreated from their path of falling. I watched students throw rocks and other items at police and media, destroy every window of a media van and then tip it over, and get maced by police.

So, to those who participated in these acts, tell me, what exactly have you accomplished? Do you feel like you have justified all the wrongs that have come into light and occurred throughout this week? Have you brought honor to Joe Paterno and our university?

No, you have done the exact opposite.

First, let me say that I understand that you are all very angry. You have every right to be angry. The students, alumni, and faculty who had nothing to do with the Sandusky tragedy have acquired a reputation that none of us deserve. Certain members of our administration and community have proven to us that they have little care for the standards of which they hold us to. They have been slow to amend these crimes, and have certainly made little effort to communicate with us. But why have we let our anger be shown in such a reckless and violent manner?

We all get caught up in moments of passion, but if we are unable to take a moment to step back, and find a positive outlet, then we must not act. I understand that the student body wanted to make a point that the Board of Trustees decision to fire JoePa was not OK with us. However, all that we have done is null if we do not make a difference.

I believe tonight’s riot occurred because of a serious lack of education of what exactly occurred in the Sandusky case. While I do not want to jump to conclusions, I do not think it is too bold for me to say that the majority of students who participated in the aforementioned actions last night have not taken the time to read through, or give proper attention to the grand jury report, for if we all had, Joe Paterno would not have been our main focus this week.

Where has your fury been for the victims of Sandusky’s molestation? When it all comes down to it, this is not a Penn State issue, but a human issue. I will never be able to comprehend what these children went through, and the suffering that surely follows them to this day. The damage that this university has incurred is absolutely insignificant to that of the victims. Hell, we struggled to replace our “White Out” for a “Blue Out” in order to recognize and raise funds for the victims, and some are still unwilling to make this immeasurable sacrifice because it is their last game, or some other insensitive reasoning. The victims have been the most overlooked during this week, and we are just as at fault as the media and the administration.

Where is your passion for restructuring the administrative system that has permitted these children to suffer for over a decade? It is simply not enough to oust all of those who are responsible for this travesty. There are systemic problems with accountability and transparency inside our administration, and we have done nothing about this.

Do we even remember that this is all because of Jerry Sandusky?

I cannot fathom the lack of logic our student body displayed during this riot. Both Beaver Avenue and College Avenue are riddled with destruction, and no one seemed to care about the effect it would have on our community. State College does not just belong to Penn State, but to all who live here. If I were a parent living in State College, I would fear to ever let my child walk on the downtown streets again.

What was the purpose for destroying the WTAJ news van? A lot of people have been complaining that the media is only focusing on Joe Paterno, but is this so unreasonable when all of our actions have been centered around him? The students have provided the media with nothing else to cover, and so we cannot exclusively blame them for the light in which this whole situation has been portrayed to the world. Also, they are just doing their job. Sandusky was involved with the football program, and Joe Paterno, who represents everything Penn State football, was involved, so of course a good amount of attention is going to fall on him. This is nothing new. I am not justifying some of the reporting, but they did not deserve the response we gave them.

All this week, we have tried to convey the message to the world that Penn State is more than just football, but we have not proven that. As my close friend, and fellow Penn State student, Josh Branch put it: The whole country is watching how a university claims to be more than just “X,Y, and Z” then riots and destroys a town over, “X, Y, and Z.”

I want to state that I do not hate Joe Paterno. He has been the moral compass of this university for decades, and has more than helped fashion the image that people have respected for years. I do not believe he ever had any malicious intent, but JoePa admitted that he wishes he had done more in the situation, and understood that it was best that he step down. I cannot explain how sad I am that I will never get to see Joe coach another Penn State football game, and it is, in my opinion unfair, that he cannot even walk onto the pitch at Beaver Stadium one last time. But rioting was never the correct solution to addressing our dismay. To the few that peacefully congregated outside of Joe’s house, thank you. As evident by the video, the constant support from the student’s has helped him through these rough days. And what did JoePa have to say to those who came to his house? He told the students to go home and study. Rioters, if you think you made JoePa proud, you are sadly mistaken.

We have been worried about the unwarranted shame that Sandusky and those involved has brought to Penn State, but the shame is on us now. Throughout the entire riot, students were screaming “WE ARE PENN STATE.” However, if our actions last night are what Penn State symbolizes, then I want nothing to do with Penn State.

However, it is never too late to remedy our transgressions. It is time that we take our passion and give it aim. Let us all come together peacefully and heal this broken family. We must become informed, seek to better the lives of the victims in any way possible, and never settle until this administration understands reputation and money never comes before morals.

Not By Memory Alone

Mayor Dan Knorr Addressing Open Forum on Flood Response
Mayor Dan Knorr Addressing Open Forum on Flood Response

It’s critical that we not rely on memory, on word of mouth for that type of an emergency. Because if it’s four decades from now, we’re going to need to have everything compiled, have this written, memorialized.
–Mayor Dan Knorr, October 18th, 2011

Records of the 1972 flood exist to be sure, but they don’t tell the entire story. There are pictures, maps, lists of names and statistics. But what these records lack is the immediate story, the conversation that takes place daily among friends and neighbors, the conversation that has taken and is still taking place in the streets of Bloomsburg.

Mayor Knorr, the Town Council, Emergency Services, and Public Works all received well-deserved praise at the Open Forum held at the Bloomsburg Firehall on the evening of October 18th. The Bloomsburg Daily, too, commends all of our local officials for their tireless and continuing efforts, helping Bloomsburg recover from this tragedy as well as looking for ways to plan for, or possibly prevent, the next.

But regardless of these good works, there was another feeling in the room last night; one of anger, one of loss, and of pain and desperation. Town residents came looking for practical answers, to be sure, but also to add their voices of frustration. They came to continue the private conversations they have daily in their living rooms, on their porches, and beside their homes which they can no longer enter.

They came wanting to know that their fellow citizens, those to whom they entrusted the care of their local government, had a sense of their loss. Here, the Mayor and the Town Council let their fellow citizens down.

Soon after Mayor Knorr finished his 30 minute presentation, the questioning began. One resident wondered why in this open forum we were reviewing all that information. “Will we just be here doing the same thing again next year?”

“Is all we’re going to do is clean the fairgrounds when people are suffering,” another resident asked.

Each time, the answers of the Mayor and the Town Council were disappointing. They spoke of statistics, future plans, using jacks to raise houses. They answered questions that were not asked. And over those two hours, some members of the Council did not speak at all. We wondered, listening to the Council’s replies, if they heard the questions their neighbors were truly asking. We wondered if they too sensed the feeling in that room.

The responsibility of any elected official is great, of course. They need to remember the practical, be able to plan for the needs of their town. But governmental leadership is also about fostering a sense of community. By speaking only of what was done in the past and of what might be done in the future, the Mayor and the Council lost the chance to address the uncertainty of the community in the present.

Mayor Knorr is right. We do need to have the practical plans and procedures to be both written and widely known. But he is also right that the September Flood needs to be memorialized. More than the practical, there is a community voice that needs to be felt, not only once at a town meeting, but constantly, every day in coffee shops and restaurants, in the emails and pictures we send to our friends, in the online forums and comments that connect us and help forge a wider, more active conversation.

This wide and active community is, in a sense, that memorial Mayor Knorr spoke of. Vibrant, engaged and constant conversation is the lifeblood of any town. Keeping that conversation alive keeps that sense of community alive, helping each of us. Not by memory alone, but through this present and continuing conversation we learn where to go, what to do, and how to respond to each crisis our community faces.

Can We Afford to Play Politics with Disaster Relief?

My heart goes out to my neighbors and friends in Fernville and the rest of the area that were hit hardest by this disaster.  I have witnessed an amazing response by so many individuals and organizations.  I’m proud to be a member of a community that is willing to help others in tough times.  It’s these values and principals that bind a community like ours together.I was amazed to see the initial clean up effort that occurred in Fernville soon after the flood — people and machinery working to clear debris, the American Red Cross offering food and water, meals being served in a food pavilion set up in the park, door-to-door delivery of cleaning supplies, and neighbors helping neighbors.  All of it was truly inspiring.  But now that destroyed homes are officially off-limits and owners are not allowed to enter them, a “wait and see” attitude has set in.  It is a shame to see the homes along Drinker Street in Fernville sit derelict.

As I have been contemplating the possible scenarios regarding destroyed homes, I started to think about the subject in relation to national politics.  And what I came up with is that I don’t know how people will be able to afford the demolition of their destroyed homes and other associated costs without assistance.  My assumption is that most people in flooded areas are going to struggle to afford it.  And specifically, I’m concerned about exactly who is going to pay for demolishing the property and making the land clean and safe again.

With budgets being cut on the federal and state levels, I fear that our local government is eventually going to be forced to pick up the tab.  It was just a few weeks ago that Congress (at the last second) appropriated funds to keep FEMA afloat.  Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) has argued that equal cuts need to be made elsewhere before allocating more funds to programs like FEMA.  Fortunately, for our local flood victims collecting FEMA monies, the argument failed to persuade lawmakers.  A legislative gridlock on this issue could have had a very close-up and personal effect on our community.

But if the political trend continues to slash mandatory spending in our federal programs such as aid to flood victims, then we may be faced with shifting this burden to state and local government. Earlier this year, many Republicans wanted to slash next year’s FEMA budget by 55%.  We may need to find revenue elsewhere, or be forced to raise local taxes, to aid in current and future recovery efforts if the responsibility is left to local government.

Just look at how much Bloomsburg spent on the curb side removal of trash.  Estimates put the figure at several hundred thousand dollars. The numbers add up quickly and it is an overwhelming burden to put on a small community like ours.

This is the reason we have federal and state assistance.  I strongly believe the federal and state emergency funding systems need to stay in place. Keep in mind, if we don’t have FEMA or PEMA, there won’t be any “buy outs.”

That being said, not all of the money needed is coming from the government.  Donations have been pouring in from all over.  First Columbia Bank donated $100,000 to flood relief.  Many more business have also contributed.  Individuals like former resident Gary Hock have contributed.  Gary donated $100,000 of his own money to the relief effort.

But is it smart or responsible to rely on the generosity of individuals to get us out of this mess?  I have profound appreciation and admiration for those contributing their time and money to the relief effort.   But can we expect these individuals and businesses to donate money to the next disaster?  My hope is that our community, with help from our state and federal governments, will be able to help those with destroyed homes sooner rather than later.

Have an opinion on a local subject?  Email us your opinion pieces and let the conversation begin.

Why Isn’t Local News More Open?

As a librarian at Penn State University, my job centers on helping users—students, faculty, and community members—find the information they need.  Focusing on this important task for over fifteen years has given me a valuable perspective on how information is created, published, and made available.  To a librarian, there’s nothing more exciting than an information challenge—helping someone find the newspaper articles or the books they need to dig deeper into a research area.  During the recent Bloomsburg flood, my skills as a librarian were put to the test.  I read about the Bloomsburg Press Enterprise’s paywall—re-erected after five days of open access to the online version of the newspaper.  I heard the frustration of Bloomsburg natives who, with the paywall back up, could not share online stories of the flood that had impacted their hometown.  This, of course, impacted wider awareness (and relief assistance) for flooding victims.  I went to work looking for ways to find, read, and share Bloomsburg news.  Ultimately, I realized that the Bloomsburg Press Enterprise is, unfortunately, an information source that is entirely closed online—not just to those looking for free daily content, but to researchers looking for historical information on the floods that have relentlessly plagued this small Pennsylvania community.  What a disheartening discovery for a librarian to make.

The lack of Bloomsburg news also runs to public and academic libraries and paid, subscription news databases.  While Access World News (a subscription database for local newspapers) provides access to many Pennsylvania newspapers, the Bloomsburg Press Enterprise is not one.  A search in the CAT, Penn State’s library catalog, turns up nothing as well.  A search of the Bloomsburg Public Library catalog also turned up nothing (other than a print subscription).  Finally, a search of the Bloomsburg University catalog turns up an (old) resource–a project to scan backfiles of the Bloomsburg Daily—an early predecessor of the Press Enterprise (and of this online paper itself!), and a record that indicates that the University has access to backfiles of the Press Enterprise on microfilm.  A follow-up with the staff at the Bloomsburg University Library confirmed that they are archiving issues of the Press-Enterprise, but do not have any access to a searchable database of Press-Enterprise articles.

This means that a researcher studying the recent Bloomsburg flood (and wanting access to local news coverage) would have to travel to Bloomsburg University to access the articles.  It’s a similar story for any other news events occurring in Bloomsburg, including the 1972 flood.  NewsBank and ProQuest, subscription database providers, frequently reach out to small newspapers to index and make searchable their back issues.  Has the Press Enterprise been approached by one or more of these database providers?  Almost certainly.  I’m sure that their motivation for keeping such tight control over their archives is tied to retaining their profits.  But why not allow companies to pay them for access to their backfiles so that researchers—those studying the floods from many different angles or any of the other news occurrences in Bloomsburg—could benefit and create new research from their extensive reporting and historical coverage?  This is a question that I can’t answer, because as a librarian, access to information is always my primary hope.  It is sad to see an information provider shut their doors on the researchers of today and tomorrow.

Altering the Rhetoric

In Friday’s Press Enterprise is a letter to the editor that casts a very critical view on town and University leaders in the days following the Bloomsburg Flood. The letter, written by a Bloomsburg resident titled, “Town’s attitude angers West Ender,” works to explain how it feels to live in the western part of town — to be branded “west enders” perhaps.

“You think we are fools who only have ourselves to blame for getting flooded. We choose to live in the West End so we got exactly what we deserved, right? We are uneducated and obviously not as “intelligent” as you, or we wouldn’t be in this situation…I live here because my home, like others in the flood zone, was passed down through generations of families.”

When I first lived on the Bloomsburg side of the Susquehanna River, I lived at 245 East Street in a pre-civil war house that my Dad bought at a bank auction. It was in the middle of an ever-increasing press from student housing. I am sure at some point prior to moving there in 1977 (from Wonderview) the whole of East Street were families. I loved living there. There were young families along third and fourth streets where we rode our bikes late into the evening year around. I wasn’t aware that I was living a different life than kids on Market Street. My friends weren’t children of doctors, lawyers, or professors (although my parents were). They were children of the town, almost all Bloomsburg natives. It was the best place in the world to grow up. It made me tough, it made me incredulous, and it made me love Bloomsburg.

We moved to East 12th street when I started 10th grade, but I always look back on my days on East Street as the best of my youth. Socio-economics didn’t matter to me and to this day they don’t. When I was a child, I heard people talk about divides in town, but I was too young and oblivious to really understand. I see it now. I am now reading the wedge issues in the Press and it makes me sad. And the sadness deepens when I read this from that same letter:

“Sadly, we are the ones cast aside; they’ll give us a token or two, but in their eyes we’re just idiots who live too close to the water.”

With that said, I now know the same pain those do in the western part of town — that when the water comes, it takes everything with it as it leaves. And in this flood it leaves more questions to engage in for the longer term than any clean up effort ever will.

Can we climb out of our rage and frustration to build a new sense of empathy? One of the things I find interesting about the letter is that it feels like it has been published to further divide the town, instead of bind it. I can completely understand where the author is coming from and I know it is from a position of anger and frustration. I feel both of those. I’ve walked the devastation in Bloomsburg. I am outraged by much of what has gone on, but I would also urge us to work to feel a sense of change happening.

The free trash collection was ended early, but it was brought back with clear instructions on how it would proceed after residents voiced concerns. The Block Party is a disaster, but the way the University came to the aid of the town has been inspiring. This is a chance for positive and restorative messages, ones I would love to see published openly in the Press Enterprise and online so people in and outside of Bloomsburg can engage in a new form of conversation regarding a town that is about one community and not multiples. What will it take for us to alter the rhetoric that has dominated our community for so long? Engaging that question is critical to our relief effort.

Update: This letter also appeared in the Press Enterprise as a letter to the editor.