West Philadelphia residents gathered at 6 p.m. on Tuesday to protest the shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo., that has garnered media attention across the country.
On the corner of 52nd and Market streets, protestors raised signs in an effort to turn Mike Brown’s shooting into a catalyst for nation-wide change. The crowd grew in both number and enthusiasm — about 80 protesters appeared at the height of the rally — as police officers stood by their cars across the street.
The signs that bounced above the crowd conveyed pleas for justice for Brown and other victims as well as demands to jail “killer cops.” The officers at the scene declined to give comments in response to the protesters’ grievances with the police system.
The non-violent protest transitioned into an open mic for speakers to share personal stories and to voice their opinions about racial inequities in both the community and the nation as a whole. Protesters hoped Brown’s death would spark discussions about the many cases of police brutality that go unreported.
JaLyn McClain, a representative of the People’s Underground Revolutionary Progress, helped organize the protest by creating a public Facebook event.
“What worries oppressive people is when hope spreads. We are here to stand in solidarity with all the oppressed people in the world because this community especially feels the tension and angst from this event,” McClain said in an interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian.
Protesters shared stories reminiscent of the Ferguson shooting. Speakers shed tears as they recounted the nights that their loved ones were shot and the watching crowd nodded in passionate support during calls for collective action.
West Philadelphia resident Danielle Crawley spoke about how a police officer used threats to compel her to falsely say that her brother — who was shot and killed by police officers in June of 2011 — pulled out a gun in front of the officers. Crawley explained that the police force is currently urging her family to accept a sum of money so that the ongoing trial can be dropped.
Specific stories of police brutality developed into a broader conversation about the persistence of racism today. As the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Freedom Summer comes to an end, the speakers emphasized the need to continue the fight using inventive strategies that align with the evolving nature of American society.
A young woman, who declined to give her name, called into the mic, “This is the tipping point. The media tries to change the rhetoric of the story, and the system wants us to forget and move on, but don’t be complacent. This is a collective process to keep fighting, from Ferguson to Philly to places everywhere.”
Penn students are organizing a town hall meeting on Sunday to discuss Brown's shooting and police brutality. Student leaders from black organizations under the UMOJA umbrella aim to foster a conversation within the Penn community about potential ideas for action and pieces of legislation to support.