Sophia Andrews is happy to be 18 and is ready to exercise her right to vote this election season.
The Bear resident says she feels it’s one of the most important ways to create real change, something many people across the U.S. are calling for amidst a fight for racial equality.
Andrews and her brother, Alexander, 16, are both activists, supporting such causes as common-sense gun laws and gun control, immigration reform, and orphan-care rights.
“But what makes this movement so different is that it’s something that directly affects me as a Black female and my brother as a Black male,” Sophia says.
“As a young, Black man, that could have been me,” Alexander adds. “I could have been the one that was killed. I could have been the one that people march for.”
“This isn’t just a Black versus white issue. It’s an everybody versus racism issue.” —Sophia Andrews
The days and weeks following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, protests spread across the world. In the U.S., Delaware was no exception, with demonstrations held in all three counties.
Protesters are calling for justice after Floyd, a Black man, died after being arrested by Minneapolis police on May 25. Video footage taken by a bystander shows a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes during the arrest.
Since then, all officers involved have been charged in Floyd’s death, but Delaware activists say more needs to be done. They’re calling for a response from state officials and residents in the form of real action, ranging from police reform to better community practices.
“This moment in time is creating a heightened sense of awareness and urgency for real change to take place in Delaware and across the U.S.,” says Melody Phillips, director of operations for REACH Riverside, Kingswood Community Center and The Warehouse. “People are tired of seeing unarmed Black men and women die at the hands of the very people that claim to ‘protect and serve’ them.”
Phillips hopes to see multiple changes in Delaware, including the way police departments are structured and increased community policing that would enable officers really get to know and understand the communities they serve.
“It is important to establish relationships between police and the community so [that] when tensions arise, officers and the community can deescalate them in a nonviolent, nonconfrontational way, especially if the officer is now familiar with the person,” she explains.
Phillips would also like police to be trained in trauma-informed care and recognizing systemic racist practices, adding that there also needs to be more Black officers, especially in inner-city Wilmington.
“Our Black communities need to see officers that look like them,” she says. They should understand the travesties and devastation each of these communities faces, like racism, poverty, violence and housing discrimination.
Wilmington resident Chandra Pitts, CEO of One Village Alliance, agrees that the time for conversation is over. It’s time for swift action.
“A precedent needs to be set,” she says. “And at some point, one of these killings has to not be in vain and it has to be a sacrifice for human rights, civil rights.”
“This moment in time is creating a heightened sense of awareness and urgency for real change to take place in Delaware and across the U.S.” —Melody Phillips
The city of Wilmington is now listening and taking action against racial injustice.
Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki and City Council President Hanifa Shabazz stated in a news release that they would support various racial justice reforms. These include:
To pay for the body camera program, Purzycki made available $800,000 in city funds that would otherwise be required to match an $800,000 federal grant for which the city has applied. If the grant is denied, the mayor and council will identify additional funding to implement the program and support efforts to create a police review board.
Public symbols are being reevaluated, as well. On June 12, the City announced that Wilmington statues of Christopher Columbus and Caesar Rodney would be taken down while discussions occurred on whether they should stay. Both statues were taken down that weekend.
Columbus’ voyages are credited with opening the Western Hemisphere to European colonization, which included 300 years of transatlantic slave trading. Rodney, a former governor of Delaware and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, enslaved as many as 200 people to work his family’s 1,000-acre Kent County plantation.
Pitts says this moment is resonating beyond the Black community, potentially serving as an awakening for many who, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, had more time to educate themselves on the issue.
“Take the opportunity to open your eyes and see what’s happening,” she says.
In addition to police reform, another step is creating an inclusive community where people of all backgrounds work together, says Jason Aviles, co-owner of Green Box Kitchen in downtown Wilmington.
Aviles says he feels there’s a stark separation between races and ethnicities in Wilmington—especially with its focus on corporate business—noting that unlike other cities, you don’t see a lot of mingling of people from different neighborhoods and different races or cultures.
It’s time for people to get uncomfortable and begin to have conversations, he adds, working together as one inclusive community. Businesses especially need to find a way to be inclusive to any customer who walks through the door.
“We can no longer act segregated,” he says.
Phillips also wants to see white people stand in solidary with the Black community on stopping racial injustice.
“Our fellow white citizens need to stand with us and stand up for us,” she says. “There are times when only people within that race are willing to listen or hear another person from that same race, ethnicity or background. I challenge white people to stand in the gap for Black people who have to diminish our feelings, thoughts or outrage for the sake of wanting to make it home alive.”
Another way is to lift the Black Lives Matter movement through marching, protesting, supporting black-owned businesses and donating to social-change organizations.
“There are times when only people within that race are willing to listen or hear another person from that same race, ethnicity or background. I challenge white people to stand in the gap for Black people who have to diminish our feelings, thoughts or outrage for the sake of wanting to make it home alive.” —Melody Phillips
When it comes to protesting, Pitts adds that it’s important to protect the protesters, as the demonstrations have created real responses. As a leader of the March for a Culture of Peace, now in its sixth year, Pitts says she’s never seen such a swift response from state and local officials as she did after the May 30 protest that caused damage to businesses. Former Vice President Joe Biden, Gov. John Carney and Mayor Purzycki were among officials who were on the scene in the immediate aftermath.
“They’ve done something that no conversation, no planning meetings, all the reports sitting on the shelves [have done], she says. “None of us has been able to do what was done by those protestors.”
Meanwhile, the Andrews siblings will continue to use their voices to create change and hope everyone will join them. They’d hate to see this be a performative act of support with the majority of people only making a couple of posts on social media for a short period of time.
“This isn’t just a Black versus white issue,” Sophia says. “It’s an everybody versus racism issue.”