By Samaria Bailey
PHILADELPHIA — Black people must organize and white people must stand up to racist institutions, leaders of the Philadelphia chapters of the NAACP and National Action Network said Sunday at a demonstration held at City Hall in honor of George Floyd.
Standing near the statue of Octavius Catto, a civil and voting rights activist, organizers said it was time that white people sacrifice their privilege.
“Racism must come to an end. And the only way that will happen is by all races making a decision that it must happen,” said Melissa Robbins, a journalist and activist who organized the rally.
Robbins’ views were shared by several others, including City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart, a white woman.
“White people need to be a part of this,” she said. “Everyone needs to take steps and actions every single day when they see racism. As a white woman, I am saying this, as a white person, as a Philadelphian, as a person of this country. We need to come together. ”
The racially mixed crowd of nearly 400 people applauded and cheered at the comments, some of which were interrupted at different points by people shouting a chorus of chants. Those who shifted from what Robbins said was a “peaceful” protest were immediately corrected by her and other organizers.
As the crowd at City Hall remained civil, other unidentified groups were vandalizing and looting businesses in Port Richmond and Kensington, and setting police cars ablaze in West Philadelphia. Police fired teargas at those protesters.
Another group of protesters gathered near the Frank Rizzo statue, which protesters attempted to topple on Saturday. On Sunday, it was guarded by rows of several dozen city and state police officers.
The mayor set a curfew for 6 p.m. in an attempt to curb the violence and vandalism, and SEPTA stopped all public transit at that time to help enforce the curfew.
“I understand people being angry…and destroying stuff but what is your agenda,” asked journalist and activist Solomon Jones. ” The reason I’m really here is to give you a peek at what works. [If] you have an actual agenda, you can make demands and get stuff done. Power concedes nothing without a demand!”
Paula Peebles, chairwoman of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Action Network, shared a similar view, pointing out that the last few days of unrest are a natural reaction to police brutality and institutionalized racism.
“Don’t use the word riot. People are rebelling. They are rebelling because they have had enough… They only arrested one police officer,” she said. “The other three should [at minimum] be charged with third-degree murder. We have to keep up the fight. We have to keep staying focused. We cannot allow ourselves to be deterred. Today, we gather to say, ‘No more.’”
Stressing that going back to “normalcy,” would mean a return to “oppression,” she charged, “We will continue to rebel. We will continue to revolt. We cannot go back.”
Rev. Gregory Holston, pastor of Janes Memorial United Methodist Church, compared the white officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck to America’s ongoing oppression of Black people and said the only way change could happen is through repentance and reparations.
“Repentance has to infer some kind of exchange,” he said. “The only way you are going to change something is by wealth going from one hand to the other. Give me my 300 years of back pay.”
Rev. William Brawner, pastor of Haven Peniel United Methodist Church, reiterated this point in his remarks.
“The white man’s knee has been on Black people’s neck since 1619 when the first slave arrived in Virginia,” he said. “[And] stuff really hasn’t gotten much better. Is not just about voting. It’s not just about economic security. It’s not just about fighting mass incarceration. It’s about organizing and staying together and everybody using their skills to fight. If we don’t organize, we won’t win. If we don’t organize, nothing will change.”
Samaria Bailey is a correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.