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Across the region, statements against brutality and racism

Anger and anguish over police killings in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y., continue to bubble up across the region, with city school students, teachers, and the teachers' union president speaking out Friday.

At Masterman School, students "die in" to protest inequality and racism.
At Masterman School, students "die in" to protest inequality and racism.Read more

Anger and anguish over police killings in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y., continue to bubble up across the region, with city school students, teachers, and the teachers' union president speaking out Friday.

At three Philadelphia schools, students staged a "die-in" as a statement against police brutality and racism.

At midmorning, 100 students at Masterman High School assembled in a first-floor hallway during their lunch period. They sat or lay down silently, some holding "Black Lives Matter" signs, others closing their eyes or staring straight ahead.

The protest lasted 41/2 minutes. The time symbolizes the 41/2 hours Michael Brown lay dead in a street in Ferguson. Students talked of being deeply affected by the deaths of Brown and Eric Garner in Staten Island, both killed by police officers who face no criminal penalty.

Senior Ty Parks, 17, closed his eyes during the protest. Parks, one of the organizers, said he was emotional.

"I was thinking of Mike Brown," said Parks.

"We want to make a collective and unified statement as Philadelphia public school students," said Jamie Gobreski, another Masterman senior and protest organizer.

It was not the first action at Masterman, where students one day skipped saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

"We're not pledging allegiance to this broken, corrupt, and racist system," Gobreski said.

At Science Leadership Academy, which along with Central High also saw a die-in Friday, senior Jasir Massey-Campbell said the protest was significant.

"But it's way bigger than just this protest," said Massey-Campbell. "I was laying there and thinking, 'That could have been me, dead.' And not only can something happen to you because of your skin color, but people can get away with it."

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, commended the students who took action.

"These protests were our young people - our students - expressing a long-held frustration that their lives, and the lives of other black and brown youth, are unimportant to the police and other authorities," Jordan said.

City teachers, Jordan said, must give students the opportunity to discuss the events in Ferguson and Staten Island. He said the union would share lesson plans and wants to spur larger conversations about race and class.

Bishop Dwayne Royster, executive director of the interfaith advocacy group POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild), said the themes of Ferguson and Staten Island were tied directly to Philadelphia classrooms. Philadelphia and other minority-majority districts in the state are criminally underfunded, Royster said.

"This has everything to do with what's happening in the School District of Philadelphia," Royster said. "We are continually struggling and appalled by the funding situation."

After school, some district teachers gathered at Prohibition Taproom, a bar on North 13th Street, to talk about how best to help their students process the issues.

Students don't have enough textbooks, said Anissa Weinraub, an English teacher at Academy at Palumbo. They learn in crowded classrooms.

"I do think that our kids are facing in multiple areas of their lives this systemic showing of a deprioritization of their lives," said Weinraub, a member of the Caucus of Working Educators, an activist group within the teachers' union.

Protests erupted elsewhere, too.

At Temple University, almost 100 students staged a "die-in" on Broad Street at Cecil B. Moore Avenue about 4 p.m. That group also lay on the ground for 41/2 minutes.

Phillip Ogunleye, 22, a public health major who organized the protest, said he chose Broad because "people are impatient," and he wanted to interrupt commuters just enough to spark important discussion.

"I have to do something. Today was the day I decided to take a stand," Ogunleye said.

At West Chester University, at least 200 students participated in a die-in, said Dean Johnson, a professor at the school.

Dressed in all black "to show solidarity with Ferguson," the large group marched across campus after the die-in and spread into a circle that stretched around the quad. They chanted and talked before taking 41/2 minutes of silence. They then marched into downtown West Chester and through the borough before going back to campus - and staging another die-in, in the student union.

"This was really the work of students who pulled together," Johnson said.

And outside City Hall, a group of Philadelphia lawyers held their own die-in, business attire and all.

Five lawyers from a nonprofit firm, which they asked not be named, joined the scene, with Neil Diamond crooning "So This Is Christmas," the opening line from John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)."

"We wanted to meaningfully add to the discussion and bring awareness to the injustice," said Yvelisse Polette, 27.