Over the past six months, from Ferguson to Staten Island, Cleveland to Philadelphia, people have been coming together in meeting spaces, public forums and the streets to express their outrage at police abuse and killings of Black men and women all over the country. Police murdering people of color and getting off without even a write-up on their record is nothing new,the public rage, the speed with which these stories are spreading over social media, and the refusal of millions of people to accept the usual stock answers from police, prosecutors and politicians have combined into an inspiring and powerful movement.
In Philadelphia, Decarcerate PA has been part of two emerging efforts to combat police abuse and corruption and to challenge the racism of the police and the criminal justice system. Since November, DPA members have been participating in biweekly town halls that have led to the formation of the Coalition for REAL (Racial, Economic & Legal) Justice. These meetings have drawn hundreds of people, centering on demands such as an end to gentrification, investment in communities not police and jails, and the creation of a fully independent police review board with community representation and the power to discipline officers.
On Martin Luther King Day, we marched alongside 5000 other people in the MLK DARE March, which was organized by a coalition demanding better education funding, a $15/hour minimum wage, an end to stop and frisk, and an independent community police review board. The march was large and spirited with different feeder marches approaching the School District building from many directions. Decarcerate PA organized a feeder march against mass incarceration, which left from Love Park with a hundred or so people, led by folks carrying a banner made by men serving life without parole (aka death by incarceration) at SCI Graterford.
Many of the contingents were carrying signs and banners that directly reflected people’s outrage over the recent events in Ferguson and killings by cops across the country. There were occasional moments of tension, and dissatisfaction with the lack of youth speakers on the stage could be heard at various points, with shouts of “Let the Youth Speak” at some moments interrupting speeches.
In addition to marching in solidarity with people protesting the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in Staten Island, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, and so many others. Philadelphia has also experienced recent tragedy at the hands of the police. On December 15th, Brandon Tate-Brown was shot in the back of the head by a Philadelphia police officer during a traffic stop in the Mayfair section of Northeast Philly. The PPD claims that the officers did nothing wrong and has placed the officers back on active duty, yet has failed to produce a shred of evidence to back up that claim. They have refused requests from Brandon’s family, the media, and the public that the names of the officers involved and surveillance video of the incident be released. Decarcerate PA is fighting alongside Brandon’s mother and members of the Philly Coalition for REAL Justice to demand that Police Commissioner Ramsey release all information to the public and that Philadelphia create a real community review board with real power over the police.
As we fight to end mass incarceration, we stand in solidarity with the growing movement to end police abuse and brutality. We recognize that police abuse their powers everyday when making decisions about who is arrested and funneled into our prison system. Police function as the entry way into jails and courts. A racist, oppressive police force is one arm of a racist system of mass incarceration that systematically targets families and communities of color.