Column: Why Ferguson Matters to Philly Students

RubyJane Anderson and Nomi Martin-Brouillette

Shortly after the die-in. Photo by Chris Lehmann.
Shortly after the die-in. Photo by Chris Lehmann.

Guest Writers

On December 5th at 11:43AM, SLA students held a die-in in. The action was covered by ABC News, WHYY, The Inquirer, and CBS. About 70 people participated. SLA students were not the only ones who had this kind of event. Masterman also organized a die-in this morning, attended by over 100 people, and Central is having a protest after school today.

Why did we do it?

We did this in honor of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sean Bell, Aiyana Jones, Oscar Grant, and Akai Gurley. We did this because there are countless others killed by state violence, including women, queer people, differently-abled people, and immigrants. We did this because the system that allows for unjustified violence against people of color is the same system that allows for the continued underfunding of Philadelphia public schools. We did this because black lives matter. We did this because every 28 hours, a black person is killed by a police officer, security personnel, or vigilante (Malcolm X Grassroots Movement). We did this because we have nothing to lose but our chains.

The action at SLA was inspired by the protests that have been happening across the country. This movement, started in Ferguson, is led by youth. We must take leadership roles because it’s going to be our world for longer. The now infamous and important hashtag, and rallying cry, “#BlackLivesMatter” was started by three young people. Youth are creative, energetic, passionate, and on the front lines of this movement. As students in Philadelphia, we too feel the responsibility to take action.

Franz Fanon said, “We revolt, simply because we cannot breathe.” Eric Garner could not breathe because of the literal chokehold he was put in by a white police officer. Across America, people of color cannot breathe because we are being harassed and killed by police. In Philadelphia, students of color cannot breathe because our education is being stolen from us. The issues of school funding and police brutality are inextricably linked. They are both examples of state violence against people of color.

It’s no coincidence that the most underfunded schools in Philadelphia are the schools with the most students of color, and that young black males are killed by police 21 times more often than their white counterparts. Both issues are fueled by the racism embedded in our social, political, and economic institutions. To fight the school funding crisis, we need to fight its root, which is institutionalized racism.

One of the reasons today’s action was so successful is because SLA’s environment encourages critical thinking. The day after the grand jury announced there would be no indictment of Officer Darren Wilson, honest and open discussions were held in and out of classrooms all over SLA. Our principal participated in the die-in.

SLA students are passionate about this. Senior Amani Bey said, “This has been happening for years, we can end it once and for all while we have the momentum and anger. We can make a change.”

Our teachers care too. Our health teacher Ms. Martin tells us, “I love you because you breathe.” It is human to care about other people. If we care enough to have sit-ins and walkouts about budget cuts to education, we also must care about our friends who are being funneled into the school to prison pipeline and those who are being harassed and killed by cops.

There will be a larger die-in, involving more schools from across the School District, neighborhood and magnet, next Wednesday. The goal of that die-in to highlight how budget cuts and police brutality are related.  The Philadelphia Student Union is having a planning meeting for that action Monday December 8th, at our office in West Philly. If you are unable to make it to that, come to the Student Union SLA chapter meeting next Tuesday, X Band in Mr. Block’s room!


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