#BlackLivesMatter rally in Harrisburg: ‘We will get police reform in the state of Pennsylvania’

Black Lives Matter protesters march outside the Pennsylvania State Capitol on Sunday, 6/7/20 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

Several hundred people, in a crowd that cut across age, race and gender lines, rallied outside the state Capitol on Sunday afternoon, joining the ongoing, national call for police reform, and to urge Pennsylvania lawmakers to act.

“Every day, we walk around with targets on our back,” Kevin Maxson, of the advocacy group Voices for the Voiceless, said, facing a crowd on the Capitol steps. “Right now, it’s a turning point for this planet. If you look in the media, we’re supported all over the globe.”

Minutes earlier, a column of marchers had worked its way around City Island, a recreational spot in the middle of the Susquehanna River, and then walked up Walnut Street, past Harrisburg Police Headquarters, before turning down Third Street, and marching toward the Capitol’s west front.

With local police present, but at a distance, the crowd chanted such slogans as “Say her name: Breonna Taylor,” and “Hands up, don’t shoot,” as they came up the street to assemble in front of the Capitol.

“This is a pivotal moment, Cole Goodman, a speaker, and local member of the state Democratic Party, told the crowd. He urged marchers to get involved, and to pressure state lawmakers for police reform.

Late last week, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, rolled out a package of reforms that included citizens review boards for state and local police. Wolf also said the state would redo its use-of-force training standards, and create an inspector general to investigate fraud and misconduct among law enforcement.

Black Lives Matter protesters rally motorists passing them on Front Street in Harrisburg on Sunday, 6/7/20 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

Wolf also threw his support behind a raft of policing reform bills sponsored by Democratic legislators — including a ban on chokeholds, expanding public access to police footage and adjusting use of force guidelines. The bills have lingered in committee for months, the Capital-Star’s Stephen Caruso reported.

While the state Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police released a statement acknowledging the need for change, saying Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer has “has diminished the trust and respect,” for law enforcement, Wolf faced push back from the union representing Pennsylvania State Police troopers.

In an op-Ed sent to the Capital-Star and other news outlets, state Sen. Mike Regan, R-York, a former U.S. Marshal, called on Wolf to involve law enforcement in any reform decisions.

“Police officers certainly deserve some say in any proposed remedies,” Regan wrote. “Unless, of course, Governor Wolf actually believes that our law enforcement community is so devoid of professionalism and integrity as to not warrant being a part of the discussion.”

On Sunday, Goodman urge the crowd not to let up the pressure on lawmakers.

“We have to hold our elected officials accountable,” Goodman said. “And if they don’t give us police reform, we vote them out … We have to keep going, we can’t stop. If we stop, they [the Legislature] stops. If we keep going, they keep going.”

All 203 members of the state House and half the 50-member Senate — Regan among them — are up for re-election in November. Both chambers are currently controlled by Republicans.

Maxson urged the younger members of the crowd  to become involved in the process themselves, and change law enforcement, the judiciary and the Legislature from the inside.

“We have to start pursuing leadership roles. It’s imperative,” he said. “If you’re sick and tired of politicians who are only in it for political gain, you have an option. Run for office. Be the change we all need.”