Today, I marched. Tomorrow, I may march again.
I marched together with one thousand like-minded souls on an oppressively hot Thursday in Philadelphia. I marched in sandaled feet, to a unified beat of righteousness and equality for all. I marched down the majestic Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the rallying cry of “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” as peaceful protesters flooded the city for a sixth straight day to honor George Floyd’s memory.
I marched for social justice and police reform, and I marched to right the wrongs of 400 years of racism. The journey started from the cragged steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, an inspired structure designed by a black architect named Julian Abele, as a chorus of “Black Lives Matter” serenaded a bronze and granite statue of revolutionary slave-owner George Washington.
We marched amid the deafening din of whirling police helicopters overhead, put there to keep the peace. No one budged, except to take a knee and a deep breath. Nine minutes. In the middle of it, two choppers looked like they might collide in mid-air and break the silence by landing in the center of Market Street. They didn’t. I continued to march.
We kept going, with chants growing louder: “No Justice. No Peace. No Racist Police.” People handed out protective masks and bottled waters. Philly cops blocked off streets and stopped traffic. It was beautiful and surreal, a bit ironic. A new war cry broke out: “No Good Cops in a Racist System.” The throng raced past the Graff House, the very site where another famous slave-owner named Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.
I marched onward, thinking about my own white privilege. What does that mean? I get paid to write about sports, to cover the superhuman exploits of amazing athletes, many of them black men. Former Philadelphia Eagles star Malcolm Jenkins had recently called out Drew Brees for not understanding his privilege following insensitive remarks regarding the national anthem, the flag and the right to protest.
Jenkins wondered out loud if the quarterback’s talks in the huddle about brotherhood were simply lip service. He called Brees part of the problem. Now, the same doubts entered my mind. Racism, of course, cannot be tolerated. This is a fundamental truth. However, it made me take inventory. Have I been part of the problem or a bridge in the racial divide?
I put a fist in the air and marched on. The Liberty Bell, the ultimate symbol of undying freedom, was clearly coming into focus. We turned the corner on 6th Street, just around the bend from the first White House and the bones of a building literally built on the backs of slaves, and a white woman in her 20s held up a sign reading: “White Silence is Violence.”
Off in the distance was Independence Hall. Imposing. Tall. Powerful, bordering on intense. No more intense than the protesters gathered outside on the front lawn. Unlike previous protests, this one was joyful and galvanized. Woke? Retire the word. Emboldened.
One of the organizers of the protest was an activist who went by the moniker Sixx King. He is an award-winning film director who counts Meek Mill as a personal friend. This fight was personal for him after his own father was killed by a racist cop 25 years ago.
“We only have one message, and that’s police reform in Philly. And we want it immediately, and we want it from the mayor. We need to send a domino effect to the world,” Sixx King shouted from his megaphone while asking the crowd to put their cell phones in the air. “We got black people. We got brown people. We got white people. We got all people here. We got smart people, with smartphones here, and we’re going to vote some dumbass people out of office.
More importantly, he supplied a tangible and reasonable way to achieve it: a list of demands.
- Police body cams must remain on from the moment a cop clocks on until the moment a cop clocks off. Complete transparency.
- Officers accused of misconduct must be put on desk duty, until an investigation is completed by an outside agency, not the police department.
- Cops need to undergo psychological testing — and they need to do it every six months.
- Forensic analysis of social media activity for police officers to ensure there are no racist or inflammatory tendencies.
- Police lawsuit settlements (from police brutality cases) need to come from the police pension fund, not from taxpayer money.
When I first joined the march (two hours earlier) I was under the impression we were protesting George Floyd’s senseless killing, in cold blood at the hands of racist police officers. Those Minnesota cops have been charged and hopefully will be prosecuted. Fingers crossed. But that wasn’t why we were sweating through masks and suffering on a 90-degree day.
No, it was to file grievances and ask for action. For immediate police reform. For change in leadership. For unstacking the deck against minorities. You see, Drew, taking a knee during the national anthem has nothing to do with disrespecting the military or the flag. I too have family members that have served this country and fought in wars. Uncles and cousins and fathers and grandfathers. That’s not the point.
It’s about honoring the bodies in the street, those unarmed black men and their fatherless children, that never had a chance. It’s putting one foot down so we can all take one step forward. And it’s our duty as white folks in America to understand why the black community is upset. Sure, all lives matter. They do. But all lives cannot matter until black lives matter.
“For all my white brothers and sisters out here, we don’t not want you to feel guilty for being white,” Sixx King said. “We want racist people to feel guilty and ashamed for being racist.”
So today I marched. Tomorrow, I may march again. And, someday, I will no longer need to march.