POWER Works to Bring Justice Reform Through Live Free Campaign

By: Breanna Moore, Digital Organizer at Power Interfaith

On April 16th, POWER held a two-hour sit-in at the Rittenhouse Starbucks where days earlier two Black men were handcuffed and taken into custody by Philadelphia police for sitting down and patiently awaiting a business partner. The arrest was videotaped, posted on social media, and shared globally causing the video to go viral prompting international outrage and calls to boycott Starbucks. POWER also demonstrated at two other Starbucks to call attention to the fact that the criminalization of mere Black presence does not apply to one location or establishment alone but rather is institutionalized in the way that we operate as a nation.  

That following Thursday, POWER held a Rally and March for Police Accountability at Philadelphia Police Department Headquarters located at 750 Race Street. This action was in response to Police Commissioner Richard Ross defending the officers who made the controversial arrests at Starbucks, saying the officers did “absolutely nothing wrong.” The rally at police headquarters was followed by a march to City Hall to demand that the Mayor’s office take full initiative to make Philadelphia a city free from racial bias.

Since these two actions, The Inquirer and Daily News have released information based on an analysis of police data in the districts that cover Center City Philadelphia which reveals that while police stops have declined since 2014, African Americans are still significantly more likely to be stopped than Whites. In public spaces, African Americans accounted for 50 percent of police stops in 2017, while Whites made up about 37 percent. Stops that police label as “inside” also include a small number of vehicle stops. When “inside,” however, Blacks account for more than two thirds, or 69 percent, of those stopped in comparison to 19 percent of White people, a rate that is roughly 2.5 times higher than stops for Whites. The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania’s latest analysis of stop-and-frisk data found that Blacks accounted for 69 percent of stops during the first half of 2017. Blacks represent 41 percent of the city population.

Racial profiling by police and businesses in Philadelphia is not a new phenomenon. A 2010 federal class-action lawsuit alleging that the Police Department had a pattern of targeting African Americans and Latinos for stops and frisks, often without cause, reached a settlement in 2011. People of color, specifically African Americans and Latinos, are still disproportionately affected by unconstitutional stops. It’s important that we are fully aware that the racial profiling of two African American men at Starbucks and the arrest that ensued is not insular to Starbucks but that this is a typical, unjust occurrence in the lives of Black and Brown people throughout Philadelphia.

Black bodies are perceived as threatening, suspicious, and undesirable. Getting racially profiled and arrested for being at “Starbucks while black” is a legacy of slavery and laws that enforced the policing of Black bodies and their right to exist in this nation through a lens that dehumanized Black people as chattel and property. Persisting data that shows that Blacks are overrepresented in police stops reinforces the reality that racism is prevalent in the foundations of our criminal justice system. This is why POWER works to bring justice reform through our Live Free/Justice Reform Campaign. POWER’s work to end police violence and mass incarceration is organized as a local chapter of the national Live Free Campaign of PICO, a national network of faith-based community organizations working to create innovative solutions to problems facing urban, suburban and rural communities.

POWER’s Live Free efforts in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania have made progress in a number of areas. The Live Free Strategy Team has successfully advocated for Governor Wolf to veto the 2016 state Police Anonymity bill which would have made it a felony to release the name of a police officer involved in a civilian killing. The Live Free Strategy Team supported the progressive positions of Lawrence Krasner in the 2017 District Attorney’s race as a part of a larger effort to vet all the candidates and raise awareness about criminal justice efforts. The Live Free Strategy Team effectively encouraged a 2018 City Council resolution to limit the state’s reliance on cash bail by the District Attorney’s office to overhaul bail practices in Philadelphia and across the Commonwealth.

The Live Free Strategy Team is currently working on several efforts to end police violence and mass incarceration. Our Live Free Chapter’s goals include completely ending cash bail, eliminating “stop-and-frisk” police practices, creating greater police accountability and reducing mass incarceration practices. If you would like to get involved with POWER Live Free Campaign, contact POWER Community Organizer Nicolas O’Rourke at norourke@powerinterfaith.org

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