BY: Samaria Bailey
Philadelphians Organized to Empower Witness and Rebuild (POWER) announced the beginning of their “Live Free” campaign to fight racial discrimination in Philadelphia policing, at Mother Bethel AME Church on Sept. 30.
The meeting was held just two days after POWER rallied in front of the Fraternal Order of Police’s Lodge 5, protesting the recent police killings two Black men: Terence Crutcher of Tulsa, Okla., and Keith Lamont Scott of Charlotte, N.C.
“We’ve been trying to gather momentum on how to frame the conversation for what it means for Philadelphia to live free,” said Melanie DeBose, co-interim executive director of POWER. “This meeting afforded us the opportunity to debrief and talk about next steps. The racial discrimination of our most marginalized citizens has to stop.”
Clergy and laypeople from POWER and their supporters will follow the “Live Free” framework in their efforts. “Live Free” began in California and is a campaign used by POWER’s mother organization, People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO), to fight police brutality and discrimination nationally.
“The faith community needs to imagine ourselves as protectors of the truth,” said “Live Free” director Pastor Michael McBride, who led the meeting. “We have to construct a moral vision that includes those who are hurting and those who are doing the hurting.”
McBride added that the three goals “Live Free” measures its success by is “a decrease in the number of gun-related homicides, by the police or the community; a decrease in the number of people incarcerated in jails, prisons or detention centers; and an increase in the number of participants in down-ballot voting.
McBride put an emphasis on local elections, such as those for “sheriffs, judges and district attorneys. Prosecutors have discretion on how they sentence, if they charge corrupt police officers. Our sheriffs run the jails.” He further advised POWER to “educate folks on how their vote locally will be the way to build political power.”
DeBose said Philadelphia’s “Live Free” efforts will work to end “stop and frisk, [address] mass incarceration and end cash bail.”
“Those stories — from the victims — the biggest issue we have is getting past the shame. We are going to have to pry open the mouths of the citizens who have been subjected to the racism in the ranks and get them to speak their truth so we can continue this campaign in an honest place, so we can go to legislators and say ‘this is happening,’” said DeBose.
The Rev. Mark Tyler, senior pastor of Mother Bethel, invited the community to join their efforts.
“’Live Free’ is open to whoever wants to participate. Our next step is to lay out what we’ve heard today with concrete plans, begin a series of meetings and develop how these things can be accomplished,” he said. “[‘Live Free’] gives us the roadmap. We have the plans, now we have to build in a way that works for Philadelphia.”