Attempts to discredit social movements through appeals to law and order is a time-tested tactic. But what happens when “law and order” serves and protects systems of oppression hurting you?
Although much of the media has focused on looting, history will show that people fought for their lives on 52nd Street last week following the tragic murder of Walter Wallace Jr. After months of peaceful protests, police are still killing our neighbors. People are tired of pleading for change. Burning dumpsters and shattered windows is what tired looks like in a fight for existence.
Walter Wallace Jr.'s death reopened collective trauma from sustained police terror for West Philadelphia. As recently as this summer, the world watched as our city’s militarized police force tear-gassed our homes, sprayed toxic chemicals in our faces, and shot rubber bullets at our bodies on 52nd St.
On Tuesday, video surfaced showing dozens of officers attacking a Black family’s SUV in West Philly. We watched the police bust the windows of the car and pull Rickia Young and her 16-year-old nephew from the vehicle. A gang of police are seen beating them mercilessly, as another officer rips Rickia’s baby from the backseat.
Then, in a blatant abuse of federal power, authorities arrested social studies teacher Anthony Smith (charged alongside three other men) on Wednesday. This ploy to intimidate activists is part of an orchestrated effort to stifle a growing movement. A visible activist with Philly for REAL Justice, Smith faces up to 65 years in prison and a $750,000 fine for the alleged destruction of a police vehicle.
After each wave of uprising, we watch the police recommit to the violent behavior of a carceral state. As city leadership continues to make excuses for the PPD’s reprehensible behavior, Philadelphia deteriorates under the pressure of the public’s cry: “Enough is enough! Abolish the police! Defund Now!”
We’ve pushed the city to fight against police violence for months, but after last week our faith in city officials has diminished. It’s clear that the City Council, Mayor’s Office, and District Attorney will not address the systemic violence at the heart of policing, nor account for its harms, unless we remain steadfast in our commitment to grassroots organizing.
While “abolition” has become a flashpoint that scares many, we must remember that divestment from policing systems is only the beginning. Building a healthier, more vibrant society requires investment in material needs proven to increase community stability. Both private institutions and public offices must overhaul their budgeting priorities in order to answer this call to action.
For institutions like Penn, Drexel, and Temple University — mega nonprofits who built their wealth on the backs of Black and brown communities — it means paying PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) and pledging to stop over-policing Philadelphia by defunding their private police forces.
We know that reform isn’t enough. Experience has shown Philadelphia that shoring up law and order by padding police budgets for more training and “less lethal” weapons will not fix the deep-seated problems we face. This can only be done by breaking down these systems and reimagining public safety rooted in community care. We have to keep pressure up on city officials and private institutions to fund a world rich in social services so we can rebuild after the burning stops.
Federal intervention and tough cop posturing will not quell unrest—it will only fuel the flames. When government agencies double down on violence as their only recourse, we must unflinchingly and unconditionally recommit to Black liberation.
This means rallying behind organizations who are risking their freedom to demand the systematic defunding and abolition of police. Penn Community for Justice, Drexel Community for Justice, Defund Temple PD, and Black and Brown Coalition PHL stand in solidarity with these efforts. Only with a collective voice can we end the federal government’s efforts to criminalize dissent and fight for Anthony Smith’s safe and swift return home
Let’s stand firm in our convictions and remain unmoved by the fear that comes in the hour of chaos. Let’s resist the brute violence of a system desperate to maintain control. Let’s rise simply so we can exist.
Revolution calls for a radical change, not only in the corrupt infrastructures crumbling beneath us, but in our very souls. Are you ready to welcome the revolution in you?
Amelia Carter is a founding member of Penn Community for Justice, a group working to hold the University of Pennsylvania accountable for their impact on West Philadelphia. She is from Philadelphia and lives on 52nd Street.