Jamal Johnson started his 125 mile hike, Stop Killing Us, to increase awareness of gun violence and police brutality. He and others gathered at the House of Umoja in West Philadelphia on Aug. 7 to start this year’s trek.
“The Stop Killing Us march was born out of my frustration at the increasing amounts of people being killed by police, especially the disproportionate amount of black men and women,” Johnson, a 62-year-old Germantown native and United States Marine Corps veteran, said. “The community violence that has always been present has been a constant concern.”
Johnson said a friend of his who he marched with in 2015, Rev. Curtis Gatewood of North Carolina, was organizing a campaign with the same name addressing the same issues. As a result, Johnson became the Eastern Regional representative for the Stop Killing Us (SKU) organization.
He will travel the 125 miles on foot, raising awareness about and advocating for congressional legislation on issues he feels passionately about. Johnson, and anyone who joins him, will proceed to the Department of Justice in Washington by Aug. 28 where they will deliver a list of proposed policies and solutions developed by SKU to change policing across the country.
“In light of the rampant gun violence plaguing Philadelphia and other cities, I have chosen to put the emphasis on this epidemic,” he said. “Police brutality will also be addressed. We will be marching from and to an inner city community that has been affected by such violence and still requesting assistance from our elected officials but also involvement by those in these communities.”
This is Johnson’s third consecutive year marching and others are invited to join in the three week trek along the way at any time.
Activist Lisa Richards traveled from Massachusetts with her children to participate in the march. The 51-year-old said she wanted to show support because she and her family have been personally affected by police brutality.
“I’m a mother of biracial children and married to an African American man that was taken down by police while having a seizure in Massachusetts,” she said. “Police thought he was high as a kite, but he wasn’t. He is in recovery and has been for many years due to the force they (police) used. They held him down. His neck and back were broken. He constantly needs physical therapy now. He is not the same person he was before.”
Nine years ago, Richard’s husband, Leon Richards, was apprehended by police coming out of a convenient store in Massachusetts. According to Lisa Richards, her husband, who is originally from Kensington, was held down by police because he was having a seizure.
“They were on top of him with their knees in his back and neck because they only saw him as a large black man resisting arrest,” she said. “When actually he was having a seizure and couldn’t get up or control his movements.”
Members of the Black Male Community Council of Philadelphia came out to the sendoff in encouragement.
“We are here today to support brother Jamal and his efforts to stop the violence,” said member Stanley Crawford of North Philadelphia. “Even though we will not be actually walking with him, our spirits will be with him. We will be concentrating on the much needed work to be done right here in the city. The organization will be continuing its efforts to help combat police brutality and community violence.”
As the march proceeds to Washington, activists will interact with other communities that have protested and rallied against police brutality and community violence.
“We try to emphasize that this is not a problem relegated to any particular time or place in this country,” said Johnson. “We are all being affected. So we must all work on this problem.”
Richards said there are other ways to stop confrontations from escalating.
“Police can shoot someone in the arm or leg and not have to kill you,” she said. “Until you put your feet on the ground as well as your voice and your votes, signing petitions and doing all that you can, then you are still part of the problem.”
One of her children marching with her is 10-year-old Rosa Richards. When asked why she wants to participate in the long march, Rosa’s answer was simple.
“Because I want things to be right,” she said. “Cops need to stop killing black people.”
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