Philadelphians Organized to Empower Witness and Rebuild (POWER) called for an end to oppressive policing in Black communities at a “Racial Justice Rally” outside the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5 on Tuesday night.
Nearly 100 clergy and laypeople of different faiths, including Muslims, Christians and Jews, were a part of the demonstration, which was organized as a response to the fatal police shootings in Charlotte, N.C., of Keith Lamont Scott and in Oklahoma of Terence Crutcher. Both were Black men.
According to a press release, POWER leaders “are also demanding that the FOP end an organization-wide culture of racism that disrespects minority police officers, disregards minority citizens and dismisses minority-related issues.”
“We are challenging the moral character of the FOP, not condemning them, but challenging them to hold up their solemn oath to [serve] and protect the community as a whole,” said the Rev. Gregory Holston, POWER’s Economic Dignity team Co-Chair and Senior Pastor of New Vision United Methodist Church. “It is necessary they understand that they don’t make that oath just to Philadelphia, but to God. They have to answer to him for their action or inaction to root out racism.”
Holston continued that POWER chose the FOP Lodge as the rally location because “the [FOP] supports policies that continue to oppress Black people” such as “stop and frisk.” Holston also stated that the FOP “is the major bloc to all change. Even when the commissioner fires someone, it’s the FOP who goes to arbitration to get their job back.”
During the rally, POWER, who was joined by organizers from the Philadelphia Coalition for Racial Economic and Legal (R.E.A.L.) Justice, shouted chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace, No racist police.” They sang “Oh Freedom,” a song that was sang by civil rights marchers.
The demonstrators alternated between speeches, chants, singing and a praying for a little over an hour while a crowd of predominantly white police officers looked on.
The Philadelphia Hell Raisers, a group of white bikers, wearing vests with Confederate flags embroidered on them, also stood on the side, laughing, interrupting some of the speakers and heckling with comments about “Black on Black crime” and revving their bike engines.
“We don’t have a response to that, we came to talk to the FOP,” said Pastor Nicholas O’ Rourke, POWER community organizer. “We did not feel threatened any more than we do walking around Philadelphia in our Black skin.”
The Rev. Mark Tyler, POWER’s Clergy Caucus co-chair and Senior Pastor of Mother Bethel AME Church, encouraged supporters that “We believe the victory is ours.”
Now, he said, the work has to be done.
Tyler invited the community to a meeting at Mother Bethel on Friday at 4 p.m. so they can get involved with POWER’s “Live Free” campaign. “This is a part of a national campaign that deals with policing and police accountability,” he said. “We have a number of demands.”
R.E.A.L. Justice organizers said they support POWER’s stance but also had messaging of their own.
“I don’t want us to get caught up in helping [police] understand their humanity,” said R.E.A.L. organizer Deandra Jefferson, who said she was responding to some clergy’s call for police to find their humanity.
Jefferson stated that this idea “happens a lot with clergy. But if [police] want to come to Jesus and have their moment, that’s up to them. But we have to move forward. We as Black folk don’t need to appeal to police’s humanity. It’s nonexistent at this point if you allow people to get away with the murder of Black civilians and children.”
A phone call to the FOP Lodge for comment was not returned.