Plugging into national outrage over the decisions not to indict the white police officers who killed two black men, one in Missouri and the other in New York, local lawmakers and clergy on Monday expressed anger, frustration, and weariness born of a perception that skin prejudice dies hard.
"Our lives matter," intoned more than one speaker at a news conference sponsored by the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus at Prince of Peace Baptist Church in Strawberry Mansion.
Though police killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., "the real weapons were the courts," where grand juries failed to indict the officers, said Minister Rodney Muhammad, new president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP.
Muhammad said African Americans do not seem to be valued "as whole people." He added that "no achievement we make is safe if we can be gunned down and it can be legal."
Speakers from the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, as well as the Guardian Civic League, a group that represents African American police officers, repeated variations of Muhammad's idea that black people are seen as less than worthy.
Several speakers expressed fear and praise for young black people: fear that more might be killed by police, praise that so many were demonstrating across America to right a perceived wrong.
The Rev. Robert Shipman, pastor of Prince of Peace, particularly lauded young people - white and black - who were lying down in streets in "die-ins" to protest Brown's death.
"When you're over 55, you don't lie down in the street anymore," Shipman said, drawing smiles from a sparse crowd.
State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown (D, Phila.), chairwoman of the black caucus, said that every one of the speakers was "both ready and anxious to assume a leadership role in fostering a more humane and civil relationship between law enforcement and those within our communities."
Brandon Flood, executive director of the caucus, said members hope to push legislation that would limit the use of choke holds by police. Garner died in such a hold.
The caucus is also advocating outfitting police officers with body cameras.
Shipman added that African Americans could help themselves by registering to vote, then making sure they cast their ballots.
"It's the only way to change things," he said.