A SURJ of Hope in This Summer of Discontent

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Jim Smith/El HiSPANO

Philadelphia – The unrest that followed last week’s killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge,Louisiana and Philalando Castile in Minnesota, appeared little abated, as Thursday night’s ambush and retaliatory shootings claimed the lives of five Dallas police officers who were protecting demonstrators.
On the weekend following the Dallas shootings, Philadelphia Police Department’s 24th and 25th districts was besieged by a virulent and hostile group of African American, Latino and white protesters. Among the highest crime areas in the city – the Fairhill district’s police officers – that had recently begun community outreach to break down barriers within this heavily Latino area – were subjected to relentless hostile diatribes and taunts of “pigs,” among other things.
While all the officers remained silently stoic under the barrage of insults, the worst aimed at African American officers, with one woman remarking, “Sad to see” in a police uniform. “Hatred of self.”
Of the handful of speakers who addressed the officers during the more than hour long protest, an unidentified Latina spoke of her personal “pain,” the result of a father who was taken away and a brother apparently shot by the police.
“How would you guys feel if somebody came in your house and took your father away?” she asked. “You guys are doing it to us.”
A nearby white man then shouted, “No empathy.”
Within a Latino community that often seems caught in between competing forces, most took a balanced view: Carmen Rodriguez of New Jersey said, “All cops aren’t bad, all African Americans aren’t thugs and all whites aren’t racists.”
A law enforcement professional himself, Manny Sanchez praised the performance of “my guys” in the 24th and 25th district, recalling that the officers are now routinely “playing basketball with kids” in the streets of Kensington and often provide “free lunches” for children in the area.
Another defender of the city’s police department, Randy Hernandez described all police officers as “peace officers” who are “serving their community.” Mr. Hernandez added, that he was no longer ‘remaining silent” about attacks on law enforcement:
“Only cowards and criminals shoot at police officers or anyone. These men,” he said, referring to the five Dallas officers, “did absolutely nothing. Nothing but go to work and serve their community.”
An angry Jess Perez sharply denounced the vicious abuse the officers of the 24th and 25th district faced over the weekend. “This bleeps me off,” said the mother of two. “They do this bleep to get a reaction from the police officers, and so they can get their fifteen minutes of fame. It’s disgusting.”
A leader of New Jersey’s business community that relies on Camden’s police officers, Jose Mota demonstrated solidarity with the department by posing for a picture with two of Camden’s female officers and releasing it to social media.
A Monday morning protest organized by the Philadelphia chapter of “Showing Up for Racial Justice” or SURJ, may have the most positive event that emerged from the recent shootings on officers and civilians, as more than one hundred, twenty-something young people -white, African American and Latino- assembled outside City Hall demanding that the majority of the nation’s population “take a stand for Black Lives.”
Chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace,” the group that was led by Rachel Ternes, Genevieve Beck Roe and John Bergen, demanded an end to “violence by police toward black and brown people; were critical of police unions that support officers regardless of their conduct; and called for a “clear explanation from city officials and local police of how they will end police violence.”
“We need to move towards a society where our black and brown brothers are actually safe,” said Mr. Bergen. The 24-year-old spokesman for SURJ added, that it was important for the majority and “privileged” population of the county to “educate” themselves about “police brutality.”
While demanding an aggressive response from Mayor Kenney, Mr. Bergen urged those non-minorities to get involved in ‘Black Lives Matters” demonstrations and work with activist groups like SURJ, “that seeks social justice and put pressure on the city to really address the root cause of these problems.”
Both Ms. Ternes and Beck Roe stressed the fact that the city’s law enforcement has a “long history of racial profiling and racist violence,” urging that the city provide “more resources” to African American and Latino communities.
“The more pressure we put on the city and state as citizens and demand concrete solutions,” continued Mr. Bergen, “change is going to happen, as more and more people wake up and demand change.”

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