STUDENTS AT THREE city magnet high schools staged a die-in yesterday to protest recent grand-jury decisions in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City, involving black men killed by white police officers.
Students at Masterman, Central and Science Leadership Academy all lay on the floor for 4 minutes, 30 seconds to mark the 4 hours, 30 minutes that Michael Brown's body was left on the ground after being shot by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Organizers said the schools began to plan the events independently, but then coordinated them - although carried them out at different times - to send a strong message.
"We understand that we've been going through a lot with budget cuts recently," said Ruby Anderson, a senior at SLA in Center City and member of Philadelphia Student Union.
"We understand the causes and the systems that are behind the budget cuts are the same ones that are behind the killing - unjust execution, really - of black and brown men by police officers," she added referring to systemic racism.
The die-ins continued a wave of protests in Philadelphia and across the country in the wake of a New York grand jury's decision not to charge Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, which came one week after a grand jury opted not to indict Wilson. The theme throughout many of the protests and on social media has been "Black Lives Matter."
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan said the circumstances are very different, but the same message applies to the chronic underfunding of the School District of Philadelphia in recent years.
"We can't ignore the fact that inequities in education funding are disproportionately affecting students of color in Philadelphia and across the state," Jordan said at a news conference, flanked by leaders of the faith-based coalition POWER and Parents United for Public Education.
Jordan said he would urge teachers to talk with students about the many issues raised by Ferguson and New York and let students voice their feelings.
Bishop Dwayne Royster, executive director of POWER, was part of a contingent of Philadelphia clergy who visited Ferguson in the aftermath of Brown's death. He commended local youths for protesting peacefully, noting the issues hit home with many of them.
"Young people are looking at this moment saying, 'This is us,' " he said.