National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality

Today is the 19th National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality. This past weekend, thousands from across the country gathered in Ferguson. Decades of racist abuse, criminalization, and police terror came up against fearless resistance. We stand today to say we want an end to racist policing, repression and mass incarceration. This year, over 800 people have been killed by law enforcement nationwide. Those lives taken, along with the millions who experience violence and racism from the state either in the streets or while incarcerated, represent just a fraction of the lives who have suffered decades of trauma, enslavement and oppression.

As we can see from the last 75 days in Ferguson, since Mike Brown’s murder, where daily actions have been taking place, there is an urgency to confront decades of police brutality. The collective sentiment is that not one more life can be lost to a racist and unaccountable system. So often, we mourn lives lost. Yet, so infrequently do we see police accountability or any justice being served.

Last week, members of the Philadelphia Student Union disrupted “Won’t Back Down”, a movie largely critical of teachers unions and supportive of charter school development. The film was produced in 2012 by conservative Christian entrepreneur Philip Anschutz, who earlier produced the pro-charter film “Waiting for Superman” in 2010. (All the reasons why we disrupted this movie and coverage of our action can be found here.) During our peaceful protest, Sylvia Simms, a member of Philadelphia’s unelected school board, the School Reform Commission, mockingly screamed at students that they “probably attend failing schools” and called for their arrest.

In a time when consciousness around police brutality is at it’s height, Simms’ supporters chanted for the jailing of young people. For students to be engaged in peaceful protest to be met with the chant “Lock them up” is an example of depth of the issue of inequitable education in our city. It demonstrates the violence with which students are treated on all levels.

During the SRC meeting on October 16th, the day after our action, Bill Green, the SRC Chair, said “Commissioner Simms is one of the most powerful voices for students in Philadelphia.” We can only imagine that if Simms, who told students that they probably go to failing schools, is “one of the most powerful voices for students in Philadelphia”, what the other commissioners are saying about students. We don’t know what the SRC members talk about when they are behind closed doors. However, in a public space, an alleged student supporter is telling students that they are failing.

Lorri Shorr, the city’s chief education officer, told Newsworks “From what I understand, everyone eventually got what they wanted in the end. The movie was viewed. The students made their voices heard,” she continued. “That’s democracy in action, as far as I’m concerned.” We disagree with Ms. Shorr. Democracy is when you get to chose your leaders who make decisions on your behalf. Democracy is when students right to assemble is protected, not threatened by arrest. Democracy would be an elected school board, not the SRC. The fact that Mayor Nutter’s SRC appointee screamed at students and that he has said nothing about it is a resounding silence that is deafening to our ears. This is not democracy at work. Students voices would really be heard if they had a say in who makes decisions about their schools.

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