This past Sunday December 7th the voices of racially diverse concerned citizens in Pensacola and Escambia County were echoing “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” and “I Can’t Breathe!” in support of the protests against the killings of unarmed Black men by white law enforcement officers. The rally was called “From Pensacola to Ferguson, With Love,” and was held in the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza in downtown Pensacola with approximately 200 people in attendance.
There were several speakers, protest chants, and a four-and-a-half minute period of silence to symbolize the four-and-a-half hours that Michael Brown’s body laid in the hot sun in the middle of the street after he was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department in August. Additionally, the protest included signs and the “I Can’t Breathe!” shouts made by Eric Garner while he was put in a death choke-hold by New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo.
Keyontay Humphries, a rally organizer, shared her disappointment of the lack of public officials at the event. Ms. Humphries also shared how fellow organizers Haley Morisette, Katrina Ramos, Michael Hansen and Bertha Lewis had to wade through the criticism they received by not having one organization in charge of the protest events from the night of the Eric Garner grand jury decision to Sunday’s rally. She stated that the organizers felt that the Pensacola protest would be best served by an organic grassroots organizing process. Evidently the strategy worked as every racial group was present along with representatives of neighborhood groups, civil rights organizations, youth groups, Black Greek letter fraternities, area churches, LGBT rights supporters, environmentalists, and an array of local student involvement from elementary to college representation. When asked about future events, Keyontay replied, “We plan to take a look at local issues such as the county commission decision to take down the confederate flag, Escambia High School still has a confederate flag flying in the building, and they put up outside during game day and pep rallies”. There has also been some discussion about Law Enforcement using body cameras. So depending on their response to these three initiatives, the Superintendent, the Police Chief, the Sheriff and the County Commission, will determine what the next move will be.
“If we were to come out like this for any event, we, the Black community, would be heard. It’s only when we don’t show up that we don’t have a voice. Not just for a moment on CNN, we need to always show up. This thing with the confederate flag, it must come down. We are still segregated. This is just another inner piece of energy that we don’t need. We live in the south, but that shouldn’t be our stigma. We are human beings. Why do we have to look at something that is still promoting racism; promoting hate?”
Michael Hansell, speaker for the occasion stated that the problem is not individual, it is systemic and institutional. The problem is inherent in the system; not the individuals, but the individuals that carries out the system’s will are the ones who are enacting the injustices in the system. That’s why you have these police shootings, the routinely loosing evidence, covering things up; that’s why you have the marches, that why you have these riots, because of these injustices”, he said.
“I think locally, the police department should voluntarily sell some surplus equipment and purchase body cameras for everyone. Body cameras would have prevented Victor Steen’s death, because common sense would dictate not to fire a taser through a moving car. If you have a camera on you, it would affect that lapse of judgment and prevent a lot of injustices and police brutality in general”. Stated Hansell.
African American males continue to be the object of racial profiling throughout the United States and in many cases they encounter harm and to date there has been no legal recourse.