Grad student arrested in Center City after protesting Department of Public Health proposal
Khadijah White spent night in jail for charges of disorderly conduct and harrassment
March 18, 2012, 10:48 pm·
When Communications doctoral student Khadijah White headed to Reading Terminal Market on March 15, she didn’t expect to pay a visit to the hospital and spend the night in jail.
The 29 year old was arrested in Center City on March 15 on charges of resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and harassment when she and others protested a Department of Public Health proposal that would require organizations to get training and permits to distribute food to the public.
She was released on March 16 and a hearing is scheduled for Apr. 16. Under the conditions of her release, she is required to comply with all further legal proceedings.
Crowds gathered outside of the city’s public hearing at the Municipal Services Building on March 15 to protest the proposed regulation . According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, she was the only one arrested.
White denounces the public health proposal, saying that there is a “war on poor people.”
“So when you have people who care and bother to show up to help feed people in the rainy weather, making a law against that is horrible,” she said.
Her arrest prevented her from attending the 25th annual conference for Women of Color at Penn on March 16, where she won an award that recognizes individuals who increase respect for women of color at the University.
Upon arriving at the public hearing where activists were distributing fliers, White saw the police were still not letting people into the building.
“There were a lot of police officers, which was strange since most of the people were there to feed the homeless, not to protest,” White said. “They had formed a barricade in front of the building with police bikes. It was all for show; nobody tried to enter the building without permission.” She added that an Occupy member had an entry ticket but was refused entry.
She saw police lining people up and a representative from the mayor’s public relations office handing out guidelines on how to proceed in the hearing.
“I asked if these were normal guidelines and why people couldn’t go into the public building. My questions were largely ignored by both the PR person and the police captain,” she said.
White remembers getting arrested around 7:15 p.m. on March 15.
“All I can say is that there was contact with police officers, my finger was broken, and then I was arrested,” she said, alleging that a policeman threw her down against a chair once she was inside the Municipal Services Building.
The Philadelphia Police Department did not return a request for an interview.
After asking for medical treatment, White was taken to the Hahnemann University Hospital at around 8:30 p.m. where she was told she had suffered a sprain, White said. She later learned that her finger is broken. She has to wear a finger splint for a month. She said she was brought to the police station at around 9:30 p.m., where she stayed the night and was served cheese sandwiches and water.
“The police kept saying they didn’t know what I was charged with yet, and I didn’t know if I was going to be released. Nothing was being communicated,” White said.
White stayed in two cells over the course of the night. She and two others shared her second cell, which contained a metal bench and a toilet.
“Even though they had a lot of cells open, they kept putting people in the same one,” she said. “It’s psychological.”
White said that members of Occupy Philadelphia, who were protesting with her, had secured her belongings earlier and gave them to her boyfriend.
“I’m not the hero in this situation. The heroes are the people who do this on a consistent basis,” she said. “I’m honored that I got to stand with them.”
Valerie Allen, director of African American Resource Center, does not regret their decision to award White with the Graduate Student Honoree Award for showing leadership in the community.
“The reason why we give these awards is because we give them to women who are serving the community,” Allen said. “I support anybody’s right to express their feelings, including [White] and including issues of feeding the homeless. We’re in America and we have the right to do that.”
The Board of Health will meet March 22 to decide whether to adopt the regulations or amend them based on public input.
This story has been updated to clarify that White did not arrive at the public hearing with the intent to hand out fliers, and that her finger was broken.