Last night, several hundred Philadelphians gathered in Love Park as part of a nationwide demonstration against police brutality. As the sun set on Philadelphia, citizens of all colors and backgrounds came together, some holding signs with the names of those killed by police.

Notably, the Philadelphia Police Department seemed to give protestors a respectfully wide berth; there was little overt police presence at the protest, as uniformed officers gathered quietly on John F. Kennedy Boulevard along the southern perimeter of the park.

The demonstration was spurred by public outrage over the killing last week of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Over the past several days, civil unrest has rocked the St. Louis suburb amid an overzealous police response to public protests.

As one young protestor pointed out, the scene at last night’s Philly demonstration stood in stark contrast to the heavy hand that authorities used in Missouri. “We don’t need cops with rifles and armored tanks at peaceful protests,” she said. “As we can see in Ferguson, it just makes things worse.”

Julio Cabrera, a graduate student living in Philadelphia, said he was there to send a message: “I’m here to stand up for our rights. We have a problem here that’s become not only an African American problem” but one that affects all people of color. “It’s a systemic problem where you have our minority children targeted — targeted — and that is not OK. We need to stop police brutality.”

Still, said Cabrera, it’s obvious that citizens are outgunned by cops — so the only thing Americans can rely on is their speech. “As we see with what’s going on in Ferguson,” he said, “we citizens have little power other than to speak our voices and raise our hands up. As police militarization comes into our cities, it’s becoming a problem to defend ourselves. We simply do not have the power to do so… Right now, we have our voices, but we need to express them very quickly and stand together to show that we have them. Our freedoms are being taken away. Freedom of the press is being taken away. Freedom to assemble is being taken away.”

One freedom that’s still generally intact, he noted, is that of voting: “Come the election, we will have something to say. We are here to make sure politicians listen to us.”

Fellow protestor Cherelle Thomas, though, said she’s not sure how effective dialogue between citizens and city authorities can really be. “I hate to say this,” she said, “but I honestly think it’s going to take a long time for any [reform] to happen. I still don’t have trust with the Philadelphia Police Department because of Rizzo.” Recalling the overtly racist policies and quotes of former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, Thomas gestured toward his statue standing just a block from Love Park. “I can still remember from when I was a child and saw some of the stuff that he did. It’s going to be a long time before there’s any trust there. I don’t even know what [the police] can do [to rebuild that trust.]”

By all accounts, the situation in Ferguson has begun to quiet since yesterday, as Missouri’s governor has dispatched the state highway patrol to replace local police and take a more conciliatory stance in the community. Still, the nation remains wary — and weary — of an American law-enforcement and criminal-justice culture that embodies centuries of racist societal assumptions.

That weariness is exactly why Cherelle Thomas said she was there. “I want to show solidarity with the younger generation and with Ferguson to let them know that somebody’s got their back, because obviously the police don’t,” Thomas said. Asked whether or not she felt that police actions in the United States had a racial subtext, she chuckled. “Everything has a racial subtext in this country,” she lamented. “And that’s pretty much the problem.”


About The Author

Contributing columnist

Josh Kruger is an award-winning writer and commentator in Philadelphia. His @PhillyWeekly column, “The Uncomfortable Whole,” took the First Place Spotlight Award for weekly newspaper commentary from the Society of Professional Journalists in both 2014 and 2015 and the Second Place Award for weekly newspaper commentary in the U.S. and Canada from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia in 2014; and, the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association presented him with the Edith Hughes Emerging Journalist Award in 2015. Along with his column, Josh blogs daily for PW on various topics including queer culture and news, mass transit, politics, crime, drugs, HIV/AIDS, civil liberties, activism, media and everything else Philly.

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