Philly’s peaceful, large-scale protest should be followed with lobbying for new ways of policing.
Like everyone else last night who was glued to a screen waiting for the breaking news report to reveal the Ferguson grand jury’s decision, I was expecting the worse, yet hoping for the best.
When it was announced that the grand jury choose not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, my heart didn’t start racing, my blood didn’t boil, I didn’t shed a tear, I felt nothing in that moment except the need to be around those who wanted to honor Mr. Brown with speech and civil disobedience.
I decided to join the activists in Center City Philadelphia who gathered at City Hall to hear the announcement and then planned to march throughout the downtown corridors in response. I caught up with protesters and their hefty police escort at 10th & Market Streets, where they had stopped to do a call-and-response, or “mic-check,” as it’s often referred to by activists.
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom… It is our duty to win. We must love and support one another. We have nothing to lose but our change… BLACK LIVES MATTER,” they shouted multiple times before continuing east.
There were already several hundred Philadelphians in the street when I attempted to count and that number quickly increased. As the protesters turned on 9th Street and headed north towards Arch Street, they were met with large group, many whom are local clergy.
The first person I noticed was a regular face on the activism circuit: Reverend Mark Tyler, Pastor, Mother Bethel A.M.E. Carrying a backpack and wiping his forehead with a rag every few seconds to stop the sweat from entering his eyes, Rev. Tyler tells me he, too, wasn’t surprised by the grand jury’s decision, but that he’s heartbroken nonetheless. As a next step, he suggested “putting pressure on the federal government to intervene.”
Once the groups had merged, they continued to march north, stopping at Broad Street and then navigating towards City Hall. Rev. Tyler, when given the chance to address the audience, revealed that his mother marched for Emmett Till in the 1950′s and alluded to the fact that nothing has changed but the date. And as was the case more than 50 years ago, race is still at the center of it all. And if anyone doesn’t think race had anything to do with the death of Mike Brown, Rev. Tyler assured me they’re “living in an alternate reality.”
The issue of race was also acknowledged by Bishop Dwayne Royster, Executive Director, POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild).
“We don’t love in a post racial America,” he said, “we continue to live in a racist America. The circumstances and situations that cause pain in the death of Mike Brown are the same circumstances of oppression that are hitting us all across America.”
The latter portion of Bishop Royster’s statement was attributed to what’s perceived as over policing in urban neighborhoods and racial bias in who gets stopped.
Mr. Gary Broderick, who represents Progressive Philly Rising, agrees with the Bishop’s sentiments, and thinks the time is ripe to use the death of Mike Brown to influence policy in the upcoming elections.
“Power concedes nothing without a demand,” he writes in a statement to Techbook Online, “and while we should maintain a broad and transformational vision, we are also tasked with deciding where we can make concrete gains to consolidate new power and show more and more people change is possible. In Philly, what if we made the repeal of Stop and Frisk the only viable position for any political contender?”
Repealing stop-and-frisk will surely gain traction, but maybe not as fast as lobbying for police-worn body cameras. Some have said that cameras on cops are the only way to start building the trust necessary to execute effective policing. Many cities, including Philadelphia, are experimenting with body cameras, but cost is inhibiting the implementation of the program citywide.
However, with the right person in the Mayor’s Office, cooperation from both sides of the aisle in Philadelphia City Council – or anywhere else for that matter –and pressure from the public, the cost of police-worn body cameras can be overcome with the use of social impact bonds, a unique financial instrument that enables promising programs to expand – most times with the assistance of a financial institution who will cover the upfront costs and assume performance risk – while assuring that taxpayers will not pay for the programs unless they demonstrate success in achieving the desired outcomes.
What’s the desired achieved outcomes? I would say: less police complaints; less officer-involved shootings and less black and brown bodies who end up in the morgue for simply being the wrong color at the wrong time in wrong part of the world.
The blood that spilled in Ferguson is everywhere. And in order to minimize the size of the blood puddle, we must take meaningful, sustained action. We must take control of our politics. We must take ownership of our communities. And lastly, we must never take “no” for an answer when we know the situation was designed for a yes.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™
Photos courtesy of C. Norris – copyright 2014