On Saturday March 8, at 2:30 PM, over 200 people gathered in the small basketball court at Pittsburgh Barack Obama Academy (old Peabody) to rally justice for Leon Ford Jr.
Ford Jr., an unarmed teenager shot multiple times by the Zone 5 Pittsburgh police, is now paralyzed from the waist down.
Police brutality and racial inequality in Pittsburgh is not just a “Black thing.”
Unity was the theme of this emotional assembly. The speakers’ most persistent demands were to unify as one, support one another, and demand justice not only for Ford but for our communities.
The event brought together so many young faces, activists, community members, and political leaders. Attendees were bright eyed and eager to bring about change in the community, demanding justice for Leon Ford.
“If we don’t stand up for this cause right here next year, not even next year, by the end of this year, it will probably be one of you who we will be out here rallying for,” said Leon Ford Sr.
Ford Sr. was adamant about getting the crowd to the polls to vote and change the outcome of these current injustices. He referred to his namesake as the “poster child” for change.
State Representative Ed Gainey also spoke at the event with passion and fire about the prejudices that have plagued the cities’ African–American youth. Gainey ignited the crowd by demanding that everyone get out and vote, not only to change the current laws set in place, but to change the current officials in the city of Pittsburgh.
“The only way this will stop is if you go to the polls and say listen ‘enough is enough this has to stop.’ We have to get up and be aggressive and stand up for our community. If you want the violence in the community to stop, if you want the brutality to stop, if you want all these things to stop then it’s real simple, come together,” said Gainey.
Leon Ford Jr. organized the rally solely on his own accord. Ford claims that none of the organizations he reached out to wanted to participate in the peace rally. Though Leon was turned down by many, in attendance were representatives from the NAACP-Pittsburgh Chapter, One Hood, and AR3 Foundation.
Leon also was able to bring forth many supporters coming from as far as Bronx, New York to support him and speak to supporters. “Don’t wait until it’s your family. Don’t wait until it’s someone you love,” said Jasiri X of One Hood.
Constance Parker, president of the NAACP- Pittsburgh Chapter, urged the attendees to get involved, and become aware of what is going on around you. “They think we’re all a bunch of gangbangers. We are not, “said Parker.
“How many more times does this have to occur until they know they have to respect us like they respect the folks in Squirrel Hill? How many times does it have to happen in Homewood? East Liberty? Larimer? This doesn’t happen in Fox Chapel, in Highland Park, in Forest Hills because there’s power there,” said Jason Rivers, CEO of AR3 Foundation.
Each speaker strongly encouraged the young people to recognize the process that occurs when these cases take place. Attendees were cautioned that it is so important for everyone to vote in order to change laws, and put new faces in power and get rid of the old ones, such as the current District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala, Jr.
Leon Ford Jr. spoke from the heart with passion, displaying so much wisdom beyond his years. He assured the crowd that he needed an army not supporters.
“I’m physically paralyzed, but a lot of you are mentally paralyzed, and while you’re hurting for me I’m hurting for you seriously. You support people who don’t support you. It’s absolutely insane and disheartening that the system failed me. I wake up every day and I can’t hop up out the bed. I have to swing my legs and climb in my chair, said Ford Jr.
“Justice needs to be served. Justice isn’t just about police brutality. It’s an injustice that we have the worst schools in our communities, we need to get more involved in education. I’m willing to put my life on the line for all of you. If I have to be the sacrificial lamb to open up everyone’s eyes, I will be that. This is a movement not a moment.”
Ford Jr. will continue visiting schools and hosting events to build awareness about his police injustice. He faces up to 20 years in prison. His trial is set to begin on May 5th.