To a nation and a founding city that have witnessed centuries of violence against Black bodies, George Floyd’s killing on May 25, 2020 at the hands of a police officer was tragic, but not exceptional. We Americans — all of us — had seen this happen before.
What was different about Floyd’s death was what happened afterwards: More Americans woke up to racism in policing and in the nation. More Americans spoke out, protested, voted. More institutions and legislators vowed to make change — and some actually did. The call for racial justice and equitable policing grew.
Still, in the years since Floyd’s death, police have killed 400 more Black Americans, according to Mapping Police Violence. Cities remain mired in gun violence, with young Black men the most frequent victims. People of color continue to fight structural inequities.
Here, a summary of progress that we’ve made — and some thing you can do to make sure it continues, and succeeds.
Two years ago, City Council approved legislation to create a Citizens Police Oversight Commission (CPOC) to replace the Police Advisory Commission. This new organization, with a civilian board, would be empowered and funded to investigate officer misconduct, make audits, recommend policy, and review citizen complaints against police. As of May 25, 2022, CPOC had a board but remained inactive, pending budgetary approval.
By the end of 2021, 3,214 PPD officers (51 percent of the force) had received 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, and 2,741 PPD personnel (43 percent) had trained in implicit bias. The PPD also signed onto Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE), a peer intervention program that trains officers to interrupt and stop acts of officer misconduct.
On August 1, 2021, the City launched a three-month pilot — the Modified Quality of Life Enforcement Pilot Program — in the 14th District (Northwest Philly) that directed police to give verbal warnings and record minor pedestrian offenses. Police were to give offenders ample opportunity to cease littering, trespassing, panhandling, gambling, carrying open containers of alcoholic beverages, etc. — in place of or before issuing a citation, while recording the stop.
According to a 2020 ACLU of PA report, nearly half of all police stops in Philly were for low-level offenses — and these stops disproportionately targeted Black people, who make up 43 percent of the city population but 70 percent of the police stops. The program has now expanded to include five more districts.
In March 2022, the City enacted Councilmember Isaiah Thomas’ Driving Equality law, the behind-the-wheel counterpart to the pedestrian pilot. Police stops based on minor motor infractions such as a broken taillight, past due emission and inspection stickers, minor bumper damage, items hanging from the rear view mirror, disproportionately target Black Philadelphians — who comprise 72 percent of all such stops. Motorists who commit those low-level offenses now receive tickets.
DEMAND MORE CHANGES TO POLICING
As we’ve reported, better policing can and does exist: In training on how to deal with people suffering from mental health issues, and how to behave like guardians, not warriors; in rethinking the notion of what public safety is, so it is of and for the community, not against it; in keeping murderous cops out of the department; in peer intervention policies that break through the blue wall; and in upending the police unions that protect — and even celebrate — violent cops on the force.
There are local examples to follow: Both Camden and Newark, NJ. Delaware County, even.
Austin, Texas (which, in many ways, is remarkably similar to Philly) created a holistic Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequalities. Dallas, Texas built hybrid teams, consisting of a police officer, a paramedic and a social worker, to deescalate and provide help in neighborhoods, jails and ERs. Prince William County in Virginia instituted a similar program. Police in Los Angeles, California enacted new, harm-reduction-minded protocols for responding to nonviolent crises.
Learn about these efforts and more, including legislative acts, through Campaign Zero, a national nonprofit pushing for policing policy reforms.
WATCH THE FOP
In September 2021, the City and the Fraternal Order of Police agreed to a three-year contract, going back to July, 2021 and extending through June 30, 2024. It was a mixed bag that Mayor Kenney called “a beginning” when he announced the deal.
The contract negotiation included a first-ever local (or national) inclusion of public testimony. It was also the first time the City shared the final document with the public. It provided that at least one civilian would be added to the Police Board of Inquiry (previously consisting solely of a captain, lieutenant and a rank-and-file officer) proceedings, contract violation hearings for members of the PPD. Also, membership in a hate group, and threats, harassment and intimidation of the public now result in discipline.
Meanwhile, the contract left in place an arbitration process that has traditionally sided with police in almost all cases. Officers also received a 10 percent pay hike — $133 million, including wages and benefits, plus a 3.5 percent year-over-year salary increase — on the heels of another tax-funded settlement (this time, $2 million) to yet another victim of police violence.
If you want the PPD to change, or to be accountable for their actions on and off-duty, you should probably let the mayor, city councilmembers and the FOP know you are still paying attention.
SUPPORT ORGS WORKING TO REFORM OUR CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
Those include Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project, Amistad Law Project, Youth Art and Self-Empowerment Project, DecarceratePA, Free The Ballot, LILAC Philly.
BE A WITNESS
Without 17-year-old Darnella Frazier’s 10-minute cell phone video of Chauvin killing Floyd, which set off an international racial justice movement, the officer might never have faced a trial or been convicted. Until police brutality is a thing of the past, we need people like Frazier to record police interactions. Find out how to do that safely and ethically with this checklist from Witness, a nonprofit that trains citizens to use technology to protect human rights.
SUPPORT LOCAL ADVOCACY GROUPS RUN BY PEOPLE OF COLOR
These include the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Frontline Dads, Black and Brown Workers Cooperative, Womanist Working Collective, Philadelphia Fight, or Black Lives Matter.
HELP BAIL PEOPLE OUT OF JAIL
So they don’t lose their jobs, their children and their homes—before they are even convicted of a crime. Donate to either Philadelphia Community Bail Fund or Philadelphia Bail Fund, which help with the expenses for people who have been granted bail by a judge but can’t afford to pay it.
SUPPORT BLACK-OWNED BUSINESSES
Small businesses owned by people of color have been the most left out of government loan programs — and the failure of a whole swath of the economy threatens to wreak havoc on already poor communities in Philadelphia. Patronize Black businesses that also give back to their communities; Black-owned restaurants; food delivery service Black and Mobile. If you’re a business owner, join the Chamber of Commerce’s Diverse Procurement Collaborative, an effort to diversify the local supply chain with more Black and Brown businesses.
SUPPORT PHILADELPHIANS WORKING TO BRIDGE RACE RELATIONS
Like the interfaith, multi-racial movement POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower & Rebuild), an interfaith, interracial group working to lift up the lives of poor communities of color, or Movement Alliance Project.
DEMAND CORPORATE TRANSPARENCY
Last summer’s racial justice protests spurred companies large and small to promise more diversity in their workforce, at all levels. But how many are willing to share the data to hold themselves publicly accountable for fulfilling that promise? Just Capital’s Corporate Racial Equity Tracker has compiled the data for the 100 largest companies in America, including a look at which ones are open about their hiring and promotion practices. It also keeps track of anti-discrimination policies, pay equity, education and training programs, response to mass incarceration and community investments.
Or are you yourself a shareholder? You have the power to insist the companies you invest in do right by the community. That’s what happened at DuPont in 2020, when work by shareholder advocacy group As You Sow successfully pushed for an investor vote to demand transparency in the Wilmington company’s diversity and inclusion efforts. The resolution pushing the company to release data passed by 84 percent over the objections of management.
Say you’re pro-criminal justice reform, and would never invest your money in private prison companies. How can you be sure your 401(k) or other retirement investments are aligned with your values? As You Sow can help with that, too, with a tool that issues a letter grade for how mutual funds and other investment platforms rate on social issues like criminal justice, race and the environment.
LEARN BLACK HISTORY
It’s been a minute since anyone pretended Black history should be relegated to a single month. Luckily, Philly is full of places to learn more. Here are some:
- African American Museum in Philadelphia at 701 Arch Street
- Charles Blockson Collection at Temple University Library
- The Colored Girls Museum at 4613 Newall Street in Germantown
- Lest We Forget Museum of Slavery at 5501 Germantown Avenue in Germantown
- Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church at 419 S. 6th Street in Society Hill
- National Marian Anderson Museum at 762 Martin Street in Graduate Hospital (You can also help fund a public statue of Marian Anderson, Philly’s first public sculpture depicting an African American woman from history.)
- Octavius V. Catto Memorial at Philadelphia City Hall
- Paul Robeson House & Museum at 4951 Walnut Street in West Philly
The rush in 2020 to buy anti-racists books and sign up for racial awareness programs was a good start. Keep it going by picking up books by and about the experience of Black people in America. A list from Ibram X. Kendi from The New York Times in 2019 is still a good starting point, as is another from Business Insider. Oh, and do it at a Black-owned bookshop, like Jeannine Cook’s Harriett’s in Fishtown and Ida’s in Collingswood, New Jersey, Hakim’s in West Philly (the oldest of the bunch), and Uncle Bobbie’s in Germantown.
Highly recommended reading: How We Stay Free, an anthology of writing about Black life and uprising in Philadelphia, commissioned by the West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and Paul Robeson House & Museum.
PROTECT THE VOTE
Republicans in Pennsylvania are joining states across the country in trying to make it harder for people to vote — particularly, you guessed it, people of color and those who have a more difficult time getting to the polls on (inconvenient) Tuesdays — even though they were the ones who pushed through reforms in 2019.
Now, voters have nominated State Sen. Doug Mastriano — a 2020 election denier — to be the Republican candidate for governor. Mastriano has vowed to repeal mail-in-voting and make other “security” changes to our electoral system. (It’s already safe.)
Pay attention, call, email, stand outside the Capitol with signs, demand corporations speak out. No less than democracy is on the line.
AND, OF COURSE, VOTE, VOTE VOTE
Make sure you are prepared and know how to vote in PA in the next election. Then choose candidates who are sincere about change, who have the political skills to get stuff done, and who are brave enough to face down those who benefit from the status quo. As Larry Sabato at UVA’s Center for Politics puts it: “Every election is determined by the people who show up.”
Let that be you.
MORE ON LOCALS DOING THEIR PART TO FURTHER RACIAL JUSTICE
Header Photo: Anthony Crider / Flickr