George Floyd protests

In the Shadow of Shuttered Philadelphia Refinery, Neighbors Recall Those Lost to Decades of Pollution

Read time: 11 mins
PES Refinery fenceline memorial

The Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery was —until last year — the largest and oldest gasoline refinery on the East Coast. The week it was sold began with a community rally that also served as a makeshift memorial service.

On Monday, June 22, as Black Lives Matter protests continued nationwide, members of Philly Thrive, a local grassroots group, arrived outside the perimeter of the refinery complex in South Philadelphia. They posted “in memorium” placards bearing the names of deceased Philadelphians along the facility’s chainlink borders, handwritten fenceline memorials for departed members of the refinery's fenceline community. Speakers that day recalled less the fiery explosion that tore through the plant one year earlier and more the long-term harms caused by decades of fossil fuel production in the majority Black neighborhood.

After a Legal Battle, Juneteenth Ceremony Honors Enslaved Ancestors at Gravesite on Formosa Plastics Land

Read time: 7 mins
Sharon Lavigne speaking at the Juneteenth ceremony at the site of a former burial ground for enslaved African Americans on the site where Formosa plans to build a petrochemical complex.

“I feel like our ancestors are shouting and rejoicing in heaven about what we did for them today,” Sharon Lavigne, founder of RISE St. James, a community group fighting petrochemical plant construction in St. James Parish, Louisiana, said after a June 19 ceremony held in their honor. “We did not forget them on Juneteenth. We honored them by leaving roses at the site where their remains are buried.”

Late this morning, Lavigne and a couple dozen supporters held the memorial at what they say is a former burial ground for enslaved people that sits on the future site of a $9.4 billion plastics plant complex. But even as widespread protests against anti-Black racism have prompted a national reckoning, the ceremony at the former grave site was met with opposition. FG LA LLC, a local member of the Formosa Plastics Group, owns the property on a former sugar plantation and denied Lavigne’s request to have a Juneteenth ceremony there. It took a last-minute judge’s ruling to force the petrochemical corporation to make the ceremony legal; Lavigne had planned to hold the ceremony there, with or without permission.

Black Environmentalists Are Organizing to Save the Planet From Injustice

Read time: 4 mins
Black Lives Matter sign in a lawn

By , Grist. This story originally appeared in Grist and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

I can’t breathe.” These were among the final words that George Floyd and Eric Garner gasped before their deaths at the hands of white police officers. That plea has become part of the current rallying cry for racial justice and an end to police brutality in the U.S. But for Black people living near industrial facilities, the phrase has an additional layer of meaning: a reminder of their disproportionate pollution burden.

New Orleans Activists Call out Environmental Racism Alongside Police Brutality in Week of Protests

Read time: 9 mins
Crowd gathered outside of Jackson Square on June 6, the last night of a seven-day protest in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

On June 3, just hours before New Orleans police tear-gassed a group protesting racial violence, Jesse Perkins, a Black veteran, called out the many shades of racism and violence his community faces daily.

What they inflicted on us was a slow violence. What is happening every day to these Black men on the street every day is violence. But it is all relative,” said Perkins, who lives in a house built on a toxic Superfund site in the Upper 9th Ward’s Gordon Plaza, a Black neighborhood. “That is why I’m here connecting the dots. Violence is violence. Racism is racism, whether it is environmental racism, whether it is racial profiling, whether you walk on the streets and get your brains knocked out by some guy who has taken an oath to uphold the law.”

Perkins was among the New Orleans activists connecting environmental racism and police brutality during a week of local protests sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police and focused on the Black Lives Matters movement. These protests, and the many others like it around the country, are taking place in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, whose death toll has disproportionately affected African Americans and illuminated racial disparity in the United States.

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