Protests sparked by the recent decision in Ferguson, Missouri, not to indict a white officer in the slaying of a black teen continued Friday in cities around the country.
And while some protests grew confrontational, Philadelphia’s version was peaceful, spirited and small. About two dozen protesters gathered in front of the Gallery mall in Center City, calling on Philadelphians to “stop shopping” and make time for social justice.
Onetha McKnight, an airport worker and union supporter, said she hopes people end up doing more this holiday season than filling their shopping bags.
“We want people to stop shopping and join an organization that’s trying to help people,” she said. “Don’t just stand back and complain about things. Join something. Speak up! Stand up!”
Anger and mistrust of police in low-income communities should come as no surprise, said Betsy Peitte, a labor advocate and writer.
“The fear of police brutality, the prison industrial complex that so many black and brown youth face because of cuts in education — it’s all part of the same struggle,” she said. “I think it’s very important that people make that connection.”
The Friday event may have been small, but activists say they will keep trying to harness the energy created by the Ferguson decision.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster, the head of POWER, one of the city’s largest faith-based coalitions, said advocates will begin soon week to talk about next steps. Among the possible priorities, he said, will be to advocate for a federal civil rights lawsuit targeting authorities in Missouri.
Royster says his group will also keep on pushing its existing agenda – one which includes addressing racial disparities in education funding and pushing for fair wages for workers at the Philadelphia airport. He believes those sorts of priorities are what’s needed to address the economic and social inequities that bedevil poor communities in Missouri and Pennsylvania alike.
“People are in pain. And they’re watching and recognizing that people of color are just not being respected by the community at large,” Royster said. “I think we’re finally moving into the new civil rights movement for the 21st century.’