The deaths of two unarmed African American men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and the non-indictments of the police officers who killed them have sparked protests throughout the country. In Philadelphia, members of youth advocacy groups Youth United for Change and Philadelphia Student Union have been among those raising their voices in protest of violence against young people of color and heightening the movement dubbed “Black Lives Matter.”
Tyzache Junius, a YUC member, recently took part in a coordinated “die-in” on Spring Garden Street. In these protests, participants lie on the ground at a public place, often for four minutes and 30 seconds, symbolizing the four hours and 30 minutes that Michael Brown was left on the ground after being killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.
Junius said that the protests are important to him. “As a young Black male myself, this makes me think if I’ll succeed in life,” Junius said.
“I have a little brother to look after, [and I wonder] will this happen to him? People are just trying to succeed, and it really hurt me to see another Black person die like that.”
A senior at Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter School, Junius said that the protests gave his peers a better chance to see what’s happening in the world. Youth organizers in 25 cities, including Philadelphia, held these “die-ins” as part of a national day of action called to challenge state attacks on young people of color.
Science Leadership Academy senior and Philadelphia Student Union member Ruby Anderson said she coordinated a “die-in" at her school in December and attended a few others around the city, including ones at Temple University, 30th Street Station, and District headquarters.
Though the protests have slowed down, members of YUC and PSU said that they continue to push for changes that will improve the lives of young people of color.
Anderson is involved in pushing for many reforms across the city, including requesting that the city’s Police Advisory Commission become a permanent fixture with more funding and staff.
“I would [also] like a lot of what we read about shootings in Philadelphia to be made public and easily digestible,” she said.
Junius said that he and YUC have staged flash mobs and are working on a YouTube campaign to raise awareness of the school-to-prison pipeline – when students are pushed out of school and into the criminal justice system.
“It’s crazy to see” what’s been going on, he said, “so we’re fighting back.”