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Black Community To White Allies At Peaceful Homewood Rally: Call Out Racism

About 300 people marched from Homewood to North Point Breeze Saturday afternoon led by black activists and followed by white allies. 

The peaceful march organized by a group of black women and femmes intentionally prioritized the needs and voices of black attendees. All intersections of the black community including physical ability and sexual orientation and identity were welcomed as well as white allies. Organizer Deaja Baker said it was a chance to uplift the black communities.

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Isabel Smith, 16, of Squirrel Hill, says she worries the momentum for anti-racist movements is slowing. She says black students at her school, Alderdice High School in Squirrel Hill, are treated differently than their white peers.

“We’re here making sure our people are safe. That our people are allowed to let go of everything else and just have a good time and gather and make that our mission. Everything else needs to be handled by somebody else,” she said.

The celebration of the black community started in Homewood with a libations ceremony, a tradition in African culture, to respect ancestors. The group then fell in line and walked down North Homewood Avenue chanting, “black lives matter” and “this is what liberation looks like."

The march paused at one point for a moment of silence followed by a call and response of “whose streets?” followed by “our streets.”

Around a dozen Pittsburgh Police officers on motorcycles barricaded side roads allowing marchers to move down the street and to Westinghouse Park for food and music. ACLU legal observers also walked alongside the march.

At the park, organizers told a group of mostly white people gathered on the lawn that being an ally isn’t enough. Ciora Thomas said, "being an ally [without action] has run its course." She said it is time for allies to go further with advocacy and become what she called accomplices.

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H. Jameel al Khafiz, of Hazelwood, says both of his parents were members of the Black Panther Party in the early 1970s when he was a kid. "To have made so much progress over the years only to have it take a massive step back, with both the election and the inauguration and just flat out unapologetic Nazis marching in the streets of America, I felt it was necessary to come out and for people to see and know that this is not OK. We have to be resistant of hate-filled ideologies," Khafiz said.

”We need people to value our lives and stand up to the power no matter what it takes to save black lives,” she said.

Organizers say they were unified because of last week’s confrontation in Charlottesville, Va. between white supremacists and minorities and activists that resulted in one death and at least 19 people injured. Pittsburgh organizer Felicity Williams said the clash was a wakeup call, but the march wasn’t just a response to the March on Google or Charlottesville.

“In reality, we have white supremacy and racism in our everyday life. It’s the fact that we have [racist] lawyers, doctors, police officers, bankers, your neighbors, people that are around you. That’s what’s insidious,” she said. “We get distracted away and focus on the Nazi’s because we can say they’re extreme. But we need to focus on what happens every day.”

Many gathered at the Kingsley Association in Larimer Tuesday night to plan a counter-protest in response to an anticipated “free-speech protest” outside of Google’s office in Bakery Square. The nine-city “March on Google” organizers described themselves as new-right and, in online posts, renounced the violence that occurred in Charlottesville. The Pittsburgh “March on Google” event was cancelled Wednesday morning.

In Bakery Square near Google Pittsburgh’s campus, several dozen gathered to protest fascism, racism and neo-Nazism Saturday. With signs declaring “No Nazi Jagoffs,” “Honk if You Oppose Racism” and “Fascists Not Welcome in Pittsburgh N’at,” the group stood on the corner as passing cars honked in support.

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Standing on Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh's Larimer neighborhood on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, anti-racist and anti-fascist protesters wave signs to motorists passing by. Many of the cars honked in favor of the messages the signs displayed.

The group declined to align themselves with any specific organization.

One man wore a bandana over his face and waved a flag, both with the hammer and sickle symbol, which is associated with the Communist movement.  Others wore red shirts or bandanas, one held an Industrial Workers of the World flag, while several people wore purple Service Employees International Union t-shirts.

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An unnamed protester waves a flag and wears a bandana associated with the Communist movement, the hammer and sickle. Most of the protesters at Bakery Square were wearing red in some form.

At least one man carried an automatic weapon, but several social media accounts picture an additional attendee that was also armed.  

A legal observer from the National Lawyers Guild was also present in the group’s signature bright green hats.

Earlier this week, after hearing that the March on Google would be postponed, Mayor Bill Peduto said Friday the city would provide officers anyway “to make sure that public safety comes first.”

No marchers arrived to protest Google or support the alt-right. 

Just before 1:30 p.m., about half a dozen law enforcement officers in camouflage emerged from a white van in front of the Bakery Living Orange apartments nearby. Soon after, five mounted officers arrived and monitored the situation.  

During the same hour at North Homewood Avenue, black residents came out of their homes as marchers chanted “this is our street.” But, organizer Ciora Thomas said she wished more black people joined the march.

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Tina Goparaju, 20, of Squirrel Hill, says she "couldn't sit at home" and not protest the racist actions of last week in Charlottesville, Va., so she decided to join the march and gathering on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017.

“We should have had way more people of color but it comes from our community being oppressed,” she said. “People are afraid. And for the people that do come out, we can tell there’s a sense of bravery with that too.”

At the park, organizers asked that white people stay outside of the park until the black marchers and people of color had been served food. At that, a few black women did leave the park telling reporters that asking white people to stay outside, “was wrong.”

Organizers refuted that, saying much of society centers on the needs of white people. Williams said this was an opportunity to show black people they are valued.

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Medina Jackson, who describes herself as a poet, spoken word artist, mama, blogger and educator, delivers a poem about empowering black women.

“Black communities face anxieties from white supremacy, from economic disparities, from food deserts, from gentrification, from lack of housing, from lack of employment, every day,” Williams said. “So (some people) came out today and this is a start for some people but the work does not end today. It’s going to go on tomorrow and for weeks after."

She said white allies need to get involved outside of marches and speak up when they witness racism. 

Sarah Schneider is WESA's education reporter. From early learning to higher education, Sarah is interested in students and educators working to create more equitable systems. Sarah previously worked with news outlets in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Idaho. She is a graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale where she worked for the school newspaper, the Daily Egyptian.
Katie Blackley is a digital editor/producer for 90.5 WESA, where she writes, edits and generates both web and on-air content for features and daily broadcast. She's the producer and host of our Good Question! series and podcast. She also covers history and the LGBTQ community. kblackley@wesa.fm