I am a black man. I live comfortably. I have a career most could only imagine. I’m a business owner. I’m famous. I have privilege.
And yet, I am still afraid.
I’m afraid because I am very aware that my wealth and life achievements will not introduce me when confronted with police authority. Instead, my skin will do that. Then I am, simply, black.
And being black in the eyes of far too many police officers means my dignity and my life are not worth protecting. “Your lives don’t matter!” is what police actions tell and have told me and people like me for centuries.
That is why I am in the street, kneeling and shouting “no justice, no peace” with the Philadelphia community. I watched on Saturday night as police officers worked to protect a statue of Frank Rizzo, proudly displayed outside City Hall.
Frank Rizzo embodies all that is wrong with American policing. This is a man who said the Black Panthers should be “strung up.” He had students brutally beaten during a protest, telling cops to “get their black asses.” When he was mayor and still controlling the police force, the Department of Justice sued Philly PD for rampant police abuse.
The statue was removed Wednesday morning, but on Sunday morning, with Center City in shambles after a peaceful protest turned destructive, as citizens from all over helped clean up the streets, city workers cleaned the Rizzo statue. Then police officers surrounded it with pride. Years after Rizzo controlled the city, the Philadelphia police force still demanded that we treat his memory with respect, turning a blind eye to the enormous damage his style of policing inflicted on communities of color.
This is just one reason why these protests are not just about the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
We are out in the streets demanding change because for over 150 years of “freedom” in this country we have exhausted every other recourse. There are protesters on the ground with their hands up, even as police fire tear gas and rubber bullets at them, to draw attention to the fact that, for so many in this country, kneeling before the flag, as many athletes did, is a worse offense than kneeling on a black man’s neck until he perishes.
We are out in the streets because we are tired of the constant, everyday display of authoritarianism by police forces in black communities, wealthy and poor alike: the constant stop-and-frisks, vehicle searches, and arrests of black men as if our lives do not matter. We are tired of police using extreme measures when protecting property and then giving a fraction of that vigor to protect the honor, decency, and humanity of the black people in this city.
In this essay, Malcolm Jenkins writes about why he joined thousands in the streets as part of nationwide protests prompted by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. If you spent time marching in Philly this week, The Inquirer Opinion section wants to hear from you. Tell us why you took to the streets at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and contact information. Some answers may appear in The Inquirer. If your response is chosen for publication, we will contact you ahead of time. (We will not share your contact info.)
We are out in the streets because we have a president who refuses to acknowledge the cries of the people. Instead of delivering a message acknowledging the pain that African Americans are feeling after watching the horrific murder of George Floyd at the hands of police, President Trump thinks it is better to answer their cries with more force. Not only is he ignoring the overwhelming outcry of the people, he’s adding lighter fluid to a nation that is already up in flames.
There are those who want to focus on the looting and rioting. I urge you not to take the easy way out. Challenge yourself to be upset about the unnecessary loss of life at the hands of a disgraceful representative of the state first. I do not condone the violence and looting from citizens, but I most especially have a disdain for the murder of unarmed civilians at the hands of the police.
The majority of people in the streets are peaceful and they are desperate for change. Even as they kneel and chant about the painful effects of police brutality, they are answered with more police violence. In front of the White House on Monday, in broad daylight, police unleashed tear gas on protesters, none of whom were violent.
Rather than focusing our attention on the damage of rioting, as a nation, we should ask:
Why are people so angry?
Who is going to bring back the life of Breonna Taylor after the police wrongfully broke into her home and killed her?
Why did Ahmaud Arbery’s killers walk away from that murder scene scot-free for 74 days, yet George Floyd lost his life over an alleged $20 counterfeit bill?
Why do we live in a country where law enforcement has caused so much pain that people are filling the streets, day after day and night after night?
Locally, we must also ask: Why do we continuously throw money at law enforcement, instead of schools and hospitals? The new Philadelphia budget proposes we do just that, throw more money at law enforcement when law enforcement remains completely unwilling to address its own systemic conduct. As a taxpayer, I am already upset that the Philly Police Department is wasting my many tax dollars to clean and protect the Rizzo statue that we, the people, tried to tear down. Now the mayor wants to throw more money to it?! I hope people will contact Mayor Jim Kenney and their City Council representatives before the June 9 budget hearing.
If we are ever to move forward, every person not in the streets must ask why so many other people are.
I know there are some who are afraid that our streets will never be the same. That is the point.