Crowd gathers to protest fatal police shooting
By biconews On 29 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

By Jessica Bluebond-Langner

Over 100 college students, family friends, relatives, Philadelphia activists and other citizens lined the sidewalk outside of the Lower Merion Public Safety Building on Thursday to protest the shooting death of Erin Forbes.

Supporters stood at the edge of he road, holding banners, placards and flags. From the rally’s start at 4 p.m., participants signed petitions and distributed fliers to drivers stopped in the rush-hour Ardrnore traffic. The heading of one flier read, “Concerned Citizens Seek Justice for Erin Forbes.”

Forbes, a 26-year-old African American male and area college student, was killed on the morning of Jan. 10 when police pursued him as the suspect in a robbery of Sunoco A-Plus in Bryn Mawr. Police officers blockaded his car on City Ave., where he received one fatal shot to the chest, fired by Officer Salkowski when Forbes allegedly rushed at him with a long object. Police later determined the object to be a walking stick.

Police “rushed him to the Medical College of Pennsylvania, where he was pronounced dead,” said an official press release from the Ofice of the District Attorney of Montgomery County.

On the Tuesday prior to the peaceful demonstration, Forbes’ arents. Ella and Lorenzo Forbes, filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court, charging Lower Merion Township, the superintendent of Lower Merion Police, Officer Salkowski, and all other officers present at the scene with violating Erin Forbes’ civil rights.

Supporters in the Forbes’ cause gathered from Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Temple Universities, as well as other schools, and represented various social and political groups, such as the Mumia Abu-Jamal movement and the African-American Freedom and Reconstruction League.

Members of Gladwynne Presbyterian Church, where Forbes sometimes attended services served as the main organizers.

In all approximately 130 people participated in the rally.

Many who were there charge that Forbes’ death came as a result of racial profiling and excessive police force. They demand the public release of the Lower Merion Police policy on deadly force; at explanation as to why Salkowski remains on active duty; and, in general, more information on the case. Because the case is under investigation by the District Attorney’s Office of Philadelphia all offices involved - Lower Merion Police, the Philadelphia District Attorney and the Montgomery County District Attorney - refuse to release any information at this time.

Some area residents were it attendance to protest what they view as a suspicious investigation by Lower Merion Police. Bo Bartlett of Belmont Hills, who knew Erin from Gladwynne Presbyterian Church, noted that “Lower Merion [Police] has yet to divulge what their policy is” on the use of deadly force. Melonie Bartlet commented that when such incidents occur, they raise questions of whether the police adhered to policy. “There is some obviously concern about whether procedures were properly followed,” she explained. She added that Lower Merion “needs to put forth a statement.”

The fact that there is an ongoing probe does not excuse the police from not publicizing the policy,” said Mr. Bartlett: “A policy should exist whether or not there is an investigation.”

Students from the bi-co community attended with various concerns. Leslie Knolis, a Bryn Mawr senior, said that Forbes’ death is a “manifestation of a larger problem.” This sentiment was echoed by many attendees at the rally, who often cited a need to demonstrate against racism, police brutality, or racial profiling as their reason for participating.

“I think it’s another example of racial profiling,” said Amanda Tenerella-Brody, a sophomore at Haverford. Both she and fellow Haverford sophomore Jared Tankel signed a letter of support while there. Remarked Tankel about the case, “I would highly doubt that if he was white, they would have shot and killed him.”

Muriel Feelings, a participant at the rally, stated that she was looking to “raise awareness of the issues and injustice of the case, gain more support, and make [the people of the community] aware that this could happen to them.” She said she was also trying to “work to bring an end to the indiscipline of police, the misuse or rather abuse of their powers.”

A number of drivers of passing vehicles honked and accepted pamphlets, while some shouted pejorative comments from their cars. The overall response seemed in support of the protestors.

Around 20 students from Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges were present at the rally. Katie Griffiths, a freshman at Haverford, explained her presence at the rally in saying, “Social justice is something I care about, that is why I came to Haverford. It is something that people at Haverford College need to do.”

The student who coordinated student response through Bryn Mawr’s Sisterhood, Claire Albert (’02), said that after meeting Forbes’ cousin and learning of the case, “I just decided to post the fliers [on campus] and get people aware of it.”

Twice during the rally, a Forbes family friend, Dr. Greg Carr, took up a megaphone and read from a flier that Forbes’ family had written. In part, it stated that in filing the civil lawsuit. Forbes’ relatives “are continuing Erin’s activism by challenging a system which holds black life

to be of little or no value, a system that allows law enforcement officers to believe that they are not bound to respect the rights of African Americans, a system which allows racial profiling and the perpetrators of racial profiling to use the excuse that the black people they target constitute a danger to their safety as justification for summarily acting as judge, jury and executioner.”

The rally concluded shortly before 6 p.m., when Forbes’ mother and two family friends spoke from the steps of the Lower Merion building. Mrs. Forbes referred to her son’s death as a “murder” and said that he is now “a statistic.”

She voiced her appreciation of the turnout and said. “I am willing to work with anyone [on the cause of Forbes' Justice].”

There are plans for a third rally - the first took place on Feb. 10 for two weeks from last Thursday, at 4:00 p.m.

When approached for comment while last week’s rally proceeded outside, Lower Merion officers refrained, explaining that only the Public Information Officer and the President of the Fraternal Order of Police could make a statement, and that they were unavailable at that time.

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