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In Pennsylvania, will unrest over BLM translate to votes?

After a major push, voter registration in Philadelphia hit a 35-year high this election cycle. But with William Wallace Jr.’s death by police shooting weighing heavily on the Black community, local leaders are urging voters not to give in to disillusionment, and get out the vote. Christopher Booker reports as part of our ongoing series: Chasing the Dream: Poverty, Opportunity and Justice in America.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    We began our "Roads to Election 2020" series back in September from the battleground state of Pennsylvania. Since then, the Keystone State has found itself at the center of a mail-in ballot deadline dispute and is facing growing unrest after the fatal police shooting of a Black man, Walter Wallace Jr., in Philadelphia last week.

    The incident has once again put a spotlight on Civil Rights, which has galvanized a movement. Whether or not that movement will translate to the polls remains to be seen. But as NewsHour Weekend's Christopher Booker reports, in Philadelphia there is a renewed push to not let despair over the latest incident discourage voter turnout.

    This report is part of our ongoing series: "Chasing the Dream: Poverty, Opportunity and Justice in America."

  • Christopher Booker:

    It's been a long and difficult week in Philadelphia—the birthplace of American democracy providing another entry into a tragic U.S. tally.

  • Pastor Carl Day:

    Even though all situations may not be similar, it just still feels like the same songs for a lot of people, you know. So I understand why people are here, and I understand why people are mad.

  • Christopher Booker:

    Pastor Carl Day spent his week appealing for calm in Philadelphia: The first night on the streets with protestors, and the subsequent days with congregates and city leaders.

  • Pastor Carl Day:

    I really think that this happened at the worst possible time. You may have some people who may say to themselves, especially in light of stuff like this, when they think that nothing's happening or people aren't really trying to make anything change. Some people may feel deflated and defeated.

  • Christopher Booker:

    Pastor Carl says he has been urging members of his church and community to ignore this impulse.

  • Pastor Carl Day:

    And my advice to them is, you know, don't allow that to happen or overtake you. You know, still cast your vote. There are ballot questions that–that affects us deeply.

  • Christopher Booker:

    In Philadelphia, these ballot questions include whether the city should form a police oversight commission and whether the police department should end the use of 'Stop and Frisk.'

  • Jamie Gauthier:

    I understand their pain and their rage at a system that feels big and too slow to change.

  • Christopher Booker:

    Jaime Gauthier is a member of Philadelphia's city council.

  • Jamie Gauthier:

    When people feel like they don't have power, when people feel like they're not being treated fairly, when people feel that they can be aggressed against again and again and again with no consequences. Well, what you see is they take to the streets. That's what happens.

  • Christopher Booker:

    Do you fear that what happened with Walter Wallace Jr. may actually dissuade people from turning out?

  • Councilmember Jamie Gauthier:

    I think, you know, it makes the election all the more crucial. I hope, I hope that. I do hope that we have peace and that people feel like they can vote in peace and that they are not threatened. But, but I also hope that people understand the urgency. I hope they understand the gravity of the situation locally and that this is our opportunity for change and for a president who can speak for all of us. And I hope they understand that locally we need a change too and that is on the ballot.

  • Christopher Booker:

    How do you respond to the cynicism? You know, thinking of the young person that says, we spent all summer calling for change and change hasn't happened and here a week before we are asked to vote, this horrible thing happens as we have seen in other cities again and again?

  • Councilmember Jamie Gauthier:

    I'd point to the things that we're voting on that relate directly to that issue. One of the biggest challenges here in Philadelphia has been our inability to hold police accountable for their actions within our communities. We're voting for a body that can create more transparency and accountability and give citizens more oversight.

    And then, you know, we are voting for our health. My residents are dying from coronavirus because of the ineptitude of this president and so I think it's about talking to people around how this election will shape the way that we live. Right? Or don't live. Moving forward.

  • Christopher Booker:

    There is reason to believe turnout in Philadelphia's Black community will be substantial.

  • Brittany Smalls:

    We have had record numbers during this, election cycle, over 1.1 million people have been registered in Philadelphia, which is the greatest number since 1984.

  • Christopher Booker:

    Brittany Smalls is the Pennsylvania State Coordinator at Black Voters Matter and Capacity Building Institute — a voting rights group formed to increase the power in marginalized and predominantly Black communities

  • Brittany Smalls:

    We asked for the call of the young people to be involved in this current cycle and they're doing it. Of course, there's an increased effort among Black women and we still have some Black men that are not really engaged in the process and we understand their concerns because they've been unheard for so long.

  • Pastor Carl Day:

    Young Black men were rarely the focal point of either campaigns throughout this entire process. So how can you expect the demographic of people to be excited, motivated, or even really feel compelled to wonderful when you know, the only time we're brought up is when it comes down to talking about prison reform, because we're associated Black men, associate with prison.

    And do we start talking about the police injustices? And that's when we talk, and we bring Black men up, you know, but everything else, every other agenda, every other demographic of people have been focused on highlight it, you know, to emphasize. And yet, you see young Black men sitting her saying, okay, you still didn't talk about us.

  • Christopher Booker:

    Tuesday's election, with results that might not be decided for days, may not bring the immediate action that people are calling for, but it does give Philadelphians a chance to vote for change in their communities. For Pastor Day, that's a start.

  • Pastor Carl Day:

    These are the things that which people still should get out there and put their ballots together and still cast their ballot, you'll have politicians that can say, hey, we put the bills out there and we asked people to check yes and no. Majority of people didn't say yes. So we felt like it wasn't needed.

  • Christopher Booker:

    Philadelphia will begin tallying mail-in and early votes, as well as election day votes, at 7:00 AM on Election Day.

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