It was a meeting held against all odds. Hurricane Sandy had just swept up the Eastern seaboard. Public transit was shut down in Philadelphia. Yet organizers decided to go ahead and hold a scheduled forum about the police brutality epidemic in the U.S.
More than 70 people came out for the Philadelphia stop on the “Fight Police Brutality from the West Coast to the East” tour, which was held in this city on Oct. 30. A meeting three days earlier at New York’s Riverside Church was cancelled when the storm forced closure of that city’s public transit system.
The event featured Jeralynn Blueford and Adam Blueford, parents of Alan Blueford, who was slain by Oakland, Calif., police on May 6, and Jack Bryson, a leader of the Oscar Grant Movement. Jeralynn Blueford poignantly related memories of her youngest son, while she emphasized the need to fight to win justice against the police who killed him. The Bluefords formed an organization called Justice4AlanBlueford, and, since their son’s death, have gone from city to city organizing against police violence.
MOVE leader Ramona Africa, a survivor of the 1985 bombing by Philadelphia police that killed 11 adults and children in her family, told the gathering that while she does not like to talk about what happened to her relatives, people have to know about it, if only to motivate them to get involved. “You are defeated when you give up,” she said. “As long as you continue to fight and resist, you have won.”
Abdus Sabur, whose son was brutally attacked by Philadelphia police in 2009, also spoke.
International Action Center organizer Berta Joubert Ceci, who chaired the event, stressed the importance of holding the meeting, noting that as the economic crisis deepens, so will capitalist state repression. She described Philadelphia as “the city that bombed itself, a city where police have impunity.” Joubert Ceci had organized local protests against police brutality after cops assaulted Puerto Rican Aida Guzman at a September community celebration.
Baltimore People’s Assembly organizers Sharon Black and the Rev. Cortly “C.D.” Witherspoon, the president of the Baltimore chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, rounded out the panel. They told of Peoples Power Assemblies being held to protest the pandemic of police violence.
Witherspoon related his experience at a 10,000 strong Baltimore march earlier this year in memory of slain African-American youth, Trayvon Martin. When he asked people to raise their hands if police had victimized them, he said, “We were stunned by the response.” He emphasized, “It’s important that we have a plan of action. We need to use our cell phones as a community weapon to capture incidents of police brutality.”
Black noted that former Oakland Police Commissioner Anthony Batts was recently appointed to the same position in Baltimore, and stressed: “It’s really not about who heads up the police. It’s about the system. Police occupation, police terror — this is their answer to the economic crisis.”
Everyone was invited to the National Peoples Power Assembly in Baltimore on Dec. 15 to take up the campaign of police terror, community control over the police and more. Black explained, “We won’t just be dealing with police abuse but also issues of racism, sexism, violence against LGBTQ people, the lack of resources for youth and the lack of jobs. All these problems, including wars abroad, are connected.”
The speakers inspired audience members, who included organizers of anti-police repression groups. The Build People’s Power Movement has been holding regular street speakouts for “Jobs not Jails!” Free the Streets has focused their attention on the construction of an unwanted new police headquarters in West Philadelphia.
While the individual accounts of police killings and vicious attacks on family members and loved ones moved the audience, the overall theme of this meeting was the need to organize and fight back.
Jack Bryson, whose sons were with Oscar Grant when a Bay Area Rapid Transit officer in Fruitvale, Calif., killed him in 2009, explained that he had never been an organizer, but that now he has dedicated his life to organizing against this system and defeating it.
Along with the Bluefords, Bryson visited political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal the day before the meeting and shared his message to those attending: “Mumia told us that what the system doesn’t understand is movements, so you have to build a movement and keep organizing. That’s all the people will believe in — not the government or the police. It’s up to us to make this happen and to defeat the system.” n