ABOVE PHOTO: (Photo: Bill Z. Foster)
By Marsha Cooper Stroman
While I was sitting in City Hall’s Dilworth Plaza waiting to cover a Black Lives Matter protest on Market Street, the pitter-patter of children’s feet as they were giggling, laughing and joyously playing in the waterfalls there eased my soul, which was weary from the recent shootings of five police officers in Dallas.
Child’s play signal messages to ‘grown folk’ if we’d only listen. The joy of life from Black, White, Asian, Biracial and Hispanic 3 and 4-year -olds playing as one, knowing nothing about racism or hate, lifted me spiritually and emotionally.
If they keep living in this society, however, they’ll wind up picking those things up.
As a journalist, taking on assignments that deal with hate, racism, death and division has never been my favorite thing. However, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to connect what’s going on with the need for protest. Hearts and souls are literally breaking from lost lives, like those of the police officers killed in Dallas, the officers that were injured, and a mother who took a bullet as she covered the bodies of her sons to prevent their deaths.
I reflected on what it must be like for police officer’s wife, expecting her husband, her children’s father, to return home from work, but getting the news that he was killed in an ambush instead. I also cringed as I watched the son of Alton Sterling, the man killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as he publicly cried out for his father at a televised news conference. I understand that reporters shouldn’t show their emotions while on assignment, and in 25 years of journalism, I have managed not to for the most part. But I couldn’t hold back my tears while writing this story. I turned to the music of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?”, “Brother, Brother, Brother, there’s far too many of you dying,” which kept it real for me. It’s true, our men are dying….one by one, city by city, and for the most part, unjustly.
Richard Ross Jr. , Philadelphia’s newly appointed Police Commissioner, is prepared for many protests scheduled in city. There’s another protest scheduled for this evening in Philadelphia and Ross wants to make sure everything goes smoothly.
“We’ll do what we have to do to keep protesters safe, but most importantly, to keep everybody in this city safe. That’s what our obligation is, and we have an obligation to the men and women who wear this uniform as well, to keep them as safe as possible,” stated Ross. Philadelphia is the country’s fifth largest city and is not exempt from exercising the first amendment right to protest if desire, for various reasons, including the injustice of lost lives.
This city has not resulted to protest with violence, however, many have not always behaved in a courteous manner. Several protests has occurred almost daily within the last several months, however, mostly peaceful. Commissioner Ross is proud of the men and women under his leadership in the Philadelphia Police Department. “Our country is currently going through a difficult time in which the lost of life has led to a number of protest throughout the country and Philadelphia isn’t exempt from those exercising their first amendment right. We are very proud of the men and women of our department for their commitment to serving and protecting all citizens which include some protestors whom have been less than courteous at times. However, we commend the protestors in Philadelphia because they haven’t turned violence and it appears that a majority of people understand that violence is not the answer or solution to any of the issues that we face as a country. We will continue to work with all community members here in Philadelphia to strengthen our relationships throughout this city,” said Ross.
Carrie Crane, 74, of Southwest Philadelphia, was married to a officer in the Philadelphia Police Department’s Civil Affairs division. She’s a believer in protest, a Christian, and member of the Calvary Baptist Church (where?). “I think they should protest. I don’t think they should use force or be militant, calling names at the police because they’re going to respond using force,” said Crane. Watching and listening to the beat of drums as protestors of all nationalities marching on Market Street was a loud cry for justice, chanting, “No Justice, No Peace.”
According to Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia, violence is not an answer, and the killings in Baton Rouge, Minnesota and Dallas have proven that by deepening the divides in our national life.
“Black lives matter because all lives matter – beginning with the poor and marginalized,” said Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput. “But also including the men and women of all races who put their lives on the line to protect the whole community. The death of two black men at the hands of police in Baton Rouge and Minnesota this week is a grave source of concern and a tragedy compounding a long and bitter pattern of similar racially-related tragedies. These incomprehensible incidents aggravate racial resentments and make a tense national situation worse. To the credit of the Philadelphia community, protests here have been peaceful and marked by cooperation between police and crowds expressing their frustration. The police officers killed in Dallas had no connection to the situations in Baton Rouge and Minnesota. They were on duty to secure the safety of the innocent public –the whole public — and their murder can only discredit the legitimate anger of many of the protesters.”
Shanice Kiett, 28, a social worker from South Philadelphia, is a Muslim who believes protesting is important and beneficial if done peacefully.
“Something as simple as affecting the morning commute can bring out Mayor [Jim] Kenney to address protestors conerns,” she said. “If everyday protesters bring traffic to a standstill on major highways or intersections, Mayor Kenney will have to address their concerns in effort to make them stop. Also, I believe there should be a partnership between police and community organizations.” Most protestors set out for ‘peaceful’ demonstrations, as was the beginning in Dallas, however, due to negative motives as sniper, Micah Johnson’s where he brutally murdered and killed five Dallas Police Officers while on the job. Violence erupted, making it bad for both sides.
Rev. Dr. J. L. Felton, Senior Pastor of Mt. Airy Church of God in Christ in West Oak Lane, agreed.
“Freedom is a perpetual struggle; democracy is a high maintenance form of participatory government. Much patience and tolerance is required to make our form of government work effectively,” Felton said. “Our peaceful protests are the catalyst for a just society.”
Organizations including the NAACP and Black preachers play major roles when protesting. Pastors and its congregants believe peaceful and safe protesting is essential, said the Rev. Dr. Andrew L. Foster, III, Pastor of Janes Memorial United Methodist Church in Germantown.
“I think definitely, people have the right to protest, that’s our right, but not always blocking the streets,” he said. “There needs to be some tangible results, and less killing,” said Foster.
“In the hours following the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and now the deaths of the officers in Dallas, I searched for the right words to express my profound grief,” Kenney said in a statement. “The phrase “my thoughts and prayers” has lost its meaning to me, and I do not know what it’s like to walk in a black man’s or a police officer’s shoes. So, instead, I listened. I listened to the story of Alton Sterling. A father. I listened to the story of Philando Castile. A mentor. I listened to the story of Brent Thompson. A police officer and newlywed.”
A White woman walked past me in the City Hall courtyard. She was in tears, so I asked her what was wrong.
We began to share thoughts about mothers and women who protest. She said that while she didn’t take to the streets, the recent spate of shootings ranging from the mass murder at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida to the shootings this week hits home.
“My son is gay,” she said. “My granddaughter is bi-racial. It hits home. I’ve been crying all the time, it could have been my son in that gay bar, it’s all of us.”
Protestors make sure commands are heard, and feasibly met and can be respected for marching throughout the streets of Philadelphia. The five Dallas police officers, Brent Thompson, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling will be remembered, as well as others whose lives were unjustly taken.
Stevie Wonder’s song says it best, “LOVE’s In Need of Love Today.”