“No justice, no peace, no racist police!” was the chant from more than 200 protesters outside the William S. Moorhead federal building in downtown Pittsburgh Tuesday afternoon.
Julia Johnson, with Pittsburgh for Justice, led the rally in which nearly a dozen speakers channeled their anger at a grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown.
“This is not new,” Johnson said. “This system was designed this way. This country was built off the suffering of black, brown and indigenous people.”
The multi-racial crowd began the protest with 4 ½ minutes of silence to represent the 4 ½ hours that Michael Brown’s body laid on the street before being removed.
Johnson then outlined four goals for organizers, which are also summarized on a Facebook page for the event:
- The indictment, arrest, and prosecution of Darren Wilson
- Drop all remaining charges Against Leon Ford, Jr. and assign desk duty for Officer Derbish
- For the DA to be vigilant in the prosecution of police misconduct, specifically Officer Derbish and Officer Miller
- Re-implement the federal consent decree in the Pittsburgh Police Bureau
Joan Mukogosi, a junior at Winchester Thurston School, said teens like her and Michael Brown need adults to advocate for them.
“It’s a sad existence for a black kid in America. It’s hard. It sucks,” Mukogosi said. “We wake up and we fight, and we fight, and we fight. We work every day to make sure that our voices are heard, so that people know that we matter.”
What began as a melancholic mood eventually shifted to indignation, as speakers expressed their outrage over what they perceive as a racist system that was never built to protect black lives.
“This is about a system of injustice that’s been happening since 1619,” said the Rev. Shanea Leonard of JUDAH Fellowship Church. “This is about a system of injustice that is predicated on keeping a group of people underfoot, disenfranchised, at the bottom, struggling.”
Johnson asked people to think about what they could do to fight racism and police violence. Organizers passed around an email signup sheet so that they could stay in touch with those who came out to support the rally.
Earlier in the day, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto called for peaceful, non-violent protest, echoing pleas from President Barack Obama, St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch and the family of Michael Brown.
“We expect that there will be demonstrations that will continue after the verdict in Ferguson,” Peduto said. “At the same time, last night we already reached out to all the ministers in town (asking them to) join us to call for peace.”
But many of the speakers at Tuesday’s protest said peaceful protest wasn’t getting them anywhere, and that they were tired of “turning the other cheek.”
“Who’s going to defend us if we don’t stand up and defend ourselves?” asked Victor Muhammad from Wilkinsburg, who said he is a local representative of Louis Farrakhan & the Nation of Islam. “I’m not telling these young black men to calm down. Ramp up, black men, and defend yourself!”
Another rally was scheduled for Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. at the corner of Bigelow Boulevard and Forbes Avenue in Oakland.
A protest is also scheduled for Friday at 10 a.m. at Point State Park, organized by Leon Ford, Jr., the young black man who was paralyzed when he was shot by a police officer. That rally will focus on economic empowerment for African Americans, and organizers are encouraging people to shop at local, black-owned businesses instead of large corporations this Christmas season.