Members of the Justice Reform Group, from left to right, Travis Cains, Bianca Austin, Jacob Blake Sr. and Cortez Rice, which were on the panel of the NAACP Philadelphia Branch Youth Council Families for Police Reform discussion on 11/12/21 (Philadelphia Tribune photo).
By O.J. Spivey
PHILADELPHIA — In light of the seemingly countless police shootings over the past couple of years, police reform has been a critical issue for the African-American community. The NAACP Philadelphia Branch Youth Council hosted a panel discussion Friday on Families for Police Reform at their local headquarters in the Nicetown section of the city.
The panelists included members of the Justice Reform Group: Jacob Blake Sr., father of Jacob Blake who was shot seven times by police on Aug. 23, 2020, in Kenosha, Wisc.; Bianca Austin, aunt of Breonna Taylor who was killed after police forced their way into her home on March 13, 2020, in Louisville, Ky.; Travis Cains, retired bail bondsman and civil rights activist; and Cortez Rice, close friend of George Floyd who was killed May 25, 2020, after Derek Chavin, a Minneapolis, Minn., police officer held his knee to Floyd’s neck for eight minutes until he was unable to breathe.
The group came to Philadelphia to also support the family of Lymond Moses, a man who was shot and killed by New Castle County, Delaware, police while behind the wheel of his vehicle on the night of Jan. 13.
“We came to a simple conclusion while telling the Moses family we would would be down with them,” said Blake Sr. “We believe in boots on the ground and we’re here without hesitation.”
Cains spoke about losing Floyd over the last year and a half.
“It has been painful but we have to turn that pain into purpose,” he said.
Austin is calling for reform at a federal level.
“We want to create a national policy through the Department of Justice on police reform and change their system of immunity,” she said. “That is the end goal.”
All four attendees from the Justice Reform Group were also presented official city citations by councilperson Kenyatta Johnson who himself advocates against gun violence.
“People want to see change, reform and most importantly, want to make sure that everyone is treated with dignity by law enforcement all across this nation. It’s bigger than just training,” said Johnson.
On the subject of being weary and overwhelmed as an activist, Rice shared his thoughts.
“No one can be ready all the time, but you can prepare yourself to be ready. There are different rules and laws thrown at us on daily basis but we stay in together. That’s how you can stay prepared.”
Blake Sr. added, “The majority of African Americans suffer from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) but we feed off each other.”
The panel also spoke to the constant name-calling and threats they face.
“I have been called a terrorist, a thug and receive death threats even today,” said Rice.
Among the rest of the panel, moderated by Manwell Glenn of Radio One, was Philadelphia Sheriff Rochelle Bilal, a longtime police officer and member of the Guardian Civic League.
“It starts with those of us who are on the job; Chad Lassiter, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission; the Rev. Dr. Robert P. Shine Sr. of Berachah Baptist Church; and Catherine Hicks, president of the Philadelphia NAACP,” Bilal said.
“The anthology of police brutality is state-sanctioned by white supremacy and its anthology dates back to slavery. They even blame you for your own death,” Lassiter said.
The evening was not without hearing from the city’s youth organized by Chole Youngblood and Jamir Coker, members of the Philadelphia NAACP Youth Council along with a presentation performed by Ci’Nya Vincent and Mark Savage of the the Earth Day Kids, a local advocacy group.
“Our youth are paying attention,” Hicks said.
The panel closed with an oral pledge led by Rice: “We have duty for our freedom. We have duty to support one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains!”
The Justice Reform Group remained in the area through the weekend to support the Moses family with a rally for justice and accountability in Wilmington, Delaware.
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