Around two hundred Penn and Drexel students came together to march and keep vigil for Breonna Taylor at a protest organized by Penn Community for Justice and Drexel Community for Justice this Friday.
The gathering took place following protests in Philadelphia and nation-wide after Kentucky police officers who shot at Breonna Taylor in her home in March were not indicted for her murder. One officer, former Detective Brett Hankinson, who was laid off from the force after her death, was charged last week for endangering Taylor’s neighbors with the gunshots, but not for murdering her.
The protesters’ main demand was to indict the officers for Taylor’s death, but speakers and organizers also criticized the role of police in general and advocated for police abolition.
Protesters began the event, which lasted about three hours, by blocking the intersection at 33rd and Market streets, as the lead speaker of the event, Samantha Rise from Girls Rock Philly and Penn Community for Justice, exclaimed, “You don’t need permission to take these streets to demand justice for Breonna Taylor!”
Rise honored Taylor by reading a touching excerpt from her high school diary in which Taylor talked about graduating high school and her wishes to be successful and make her family proud.
“Breonna Taylor is not a hashtag. She’s not a painting on our wall. She’s alive in all of us, and our obligation to her legacy is to resist the oppressions that have destroyed her and say no more,” Rise said.
The protest then marched up 33rd Street and east on Powelton Avenue to Drexel Park, where they held the vigil, with protesters chanting “Fund Black futures!” "No justice, no peace!" and “Penn pay PILOTs!” Upon the protesters' entrance, picnickers at Drexel Park started to pack up and leave, as Rise said “You might be feeling displaced right now. It’s fine, get used to it. Just think of yourself as Black people in Philadelphia!”
As protesters prepared the vigil, setting out a picture of Taylor and flowers, they took a moment of silence. Then, Christian Cross, research specialist at Penn Vet, College of Liberal and Professional Studies student, and a member of Penn Community for Justice, took the microphone and criticized the lack of indictment in Taylor’s case.
“The mass public criminalizes Black people with guns but glorifies the reckless behavior by public servants within our justice system," Cross said. "An officer was charged with wanton endangerment for firing ten bullet rounds into property without a clear line of sight because he might have endangered human life. But literally no one is being held accountable for the six bullets that did cost the loss of a life. Make it make sense.”
The vigil continued with protesters lighting candles and people speaking in turns at an open mic. Throughout the night, participants chanted "I will abolish the cop in my mind, so we can abolish the cop in the streets," repeatedly in an effort to remind themselves to challenge internalized systematic racism and policing norms.
Amelia Carter, who is a coordinator at the South Asia Center at Penn and is also a member of Penn Community for Justice told The Daily Pennsylvanian that Breonna Taylor’s case exemplifies how the justice system across the country is tailored towards white people.
She encouraged students to educate themselves about systematic racism at the local and national levels, as well as learn about upcoming events through Penn Community for Justice’s Instagram and Facebook page, and participate in virtual activism, from sending emails to signing petitions or boosting relevant posts on social media.
“As we’ve been saying, at the Jacob Blake protest and at the Trump rally, all of these bigger issues that are happening in the city are Penn issues, they are Drexel issues, and students are responsible. They are responsible for participating in these activities. Staff in these institutions are responsible, faculty are responsible. We all have to take the responsibility of actively getting involved in these issues because we are all culpable if we are not active.” Carter said.