Around 100 students from Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania, along with many Philadelphia residents, united for a vigil in honor of Breonna Taylor on Sept. 25. The march was organized by the Drexel Black Action Committee, the Drexel Community for Justice and the Penn Community for Justice.
The event took place along with many similar ones in Philadelphia and throughout the United States, following the news that all the officers involved in Taylor’s death were absolved of murder charges. Brett Hankison, ex-detective, was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment because some of the shots he fired allegedly entered a neighboring apartment, where three people were present.
The protest called for justice and demanded indictment of the officers who shot Taylor, as well as defunding Drexel Police and the Philadelphia Police Department. In addition, some other groups requested that Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania pay their Payment in Lieu of Taxes.
Protesters began gathering at the Dragon Statue at around 5:30 p.m. and focused efforts on blocking the intersection of 33rd and Market streets. Those present were mostly wearing masks, social distancing and using wipes to constantly disinfect microphones and equipment.
Throughout the event, Tianna Williams and Bianca Best — leaders of DBAC — were some of the many representatives who gave speeches. Others included speakers from the Drexel and Penn Communities for Justice, Samantha Rise from Girls Rock Philly and other citywide organizations.
Later, the protestors marched to Drexel Park, where they held a candlelight vigil and an open mic. event until 8:30 p.m., allowing those who wanted to speak up.
“At heart, this event was a vigil for Breonna, but we were also recognizing that this entire movement is bigger than her and it’s bigger than George Floyd. The demands we are asking for are part of a wider systemic issue which is why it is so important to keep seeing this demonstration and protests,” said Williams, president of DBAC and an Engineering Technology junior student. “Our main message during our speeches was about how unfortunate it was that an event like this has happened again because the killing of unarmed people, particularly unarmed Black people, has been a thing since their founding.”
Locally, for Drexel, they are asking to defund the University’s police department and divest from Philadelphia Police as a “road to abolition and reimagining of public safety.” This would help ensure the security of students and the residents of West Philadelphia who are, in majority, people of color and suffer over-policing from these forces, Williams said.
“[Our groups] are also calling for Drexel and Penn to pay PILOTs and begin paying more property taxes as a way to contribute to resources and programs in the West Philly community who are underfunded and combat gentrification,” Williams clarified.
Williams added that throughout these months, DBAC has received some response from Drexel administration, but it was not as direct as they had wanted.
“Us [at Drexel Black Action Committee] and the Drexel community have been in touch with the administration before through various means,” Williams said. “For example, I sit as a co-chair in the Anti-Racism Task Force, but there are separate talks going on besides from my role in that. What [DBAC] and Drexel Community for Justice want is to sit down and have a talk about our demands with the administration.”
Since the reignition of the Black Lives Movement in mid-May, DBAC has held many virtual events and collaborated with physical events held by other organizations. However, this is the first large, physical protest they have organized. The march was fully promoted through Instagram.