Surrounded by broken windows and burning police cars amid a citywide Black Lives Matter protest, 2020 College graduate Eiman Eltigani said she felt like she was living through a scene in a movie.
Black Lives Matter Philadelphia held a demonstration on May 30 to protest the death of George Floyd and ongoing police violence against countless Black people. Protests began peacefully at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but as the group walked past City Hall, they encountered a large presence from the Philadelphia Police Department. There, the protest quickly turned violent.
Eiman Eltigani was on the front lines of the Philadelphia demonstration, along with her sister, 2014 College graduate Muhga Eltigani, 2020 College graduate Naeche Vincent, and rising College sophomore Calil Morris.
Morris said after he witnessed heated arguments between the Philadelphia Police and protesters, officers initiated violence by firing tear gas into the crowd in an attempt to push them back.
Protesters were frustrated with the way in which police engaged with the group, as they approached the demonstrators by foot, car, and bike and were armed with SWAT gear and tear gas, Morris said.
For Muhga Eltigani, being pepper-sprayed was only part of her encounter with the police that day.
Moments after the pepper spray was used on protesters, Eiman Eltigani said her sister was shoved by a police officer as she attempted to help another protester who had been trampled. Although Vincent was wearing sunglasses, many other protesters were not wearing eye protection during the events.
“Whoever was in front of [the police], became their biggest enemy," Eiman Eltigani said.
Muhga Eltigani tweeted that as she was helping the protesters, a police officer aimed for her head and knocked out her front teeth after hitting her in the face with a metal baton. Eiman Eltigani said after the police officer hit her sister, Muhga Eltigani confronted the officer who hit her and said, "you're going to pay for this" as he "smirked" back at her.
In an emailed statement sent to The Daily Pennsylvanian on June 17, Philadelphia Police wrote they were unable to comment on the incident as the investigation remains in progress by its Internal Affairs Division. “The propriety of tactics employed will be included in that investigation,” the emailed statement read.
Muhga Eltigani’s encounter is not the only reported incident of police violence against student protesters.
During a June 1 protest over the death of George Floyd, a video surfaced of Temple University student Evan Gorski being struck in the head with a baton by a high-ranking Philadelphia Police Staff Inspector, Joseph Bologna Jr., while another police officer pinned Gorski’s face to the ground with his knee, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Bologna turned himself in on June 8 after facing multiple assault charges, but was released on a $10,000 bail and is scheduled to return to court for a preliminary hearing on June 25.
Penn has recently been brought under scrutiny by faculty and students for its relationship with Philadelphia Police. More than ten thousand people have signed a petition, which was created on May 31, demanding that Penn cut ties with the Philadelphia Police Department and reform militarized aspects of University policing measures on campus.
Among its nine listed demands, the petition seeks a committee composed of staff and students of color to investigate instances of people of color being frisked by Penn police.
In response to Gorski’s assault, Temple University released a statement that condemned Bologna’s actions, but restated Temple's support of the Philadelphia Police Department and refused requests to end its relationship with the city's police forces. “We do not believe that doing so would be in the best interests of Temple students, faculty and staff, and our neighbors in the surrounding community,” Temple's statement read.
Penn has not yet released a statement regarding its affiliation with and funding of the Philadelphia Police and Philadelphia Police Foundation.
During the May 30 protest, Vincent said when police yelled “move back” it felt like a code word for police to use violence. Vincent and Eiman Eltigani said that during the protest, the police did not give protesters any opportunity to move back, but simply moved towards protesters immediately and trapped them against a wall.
Eiman Eltigani, Morris, and Vincent all said police arrested protesters at random — rather than targeting individuals for their actions — and used force to arrest whoever they could.
“I don’t think anyone should have been arrested at all, because the people initiating violence were usually the police,” Vincent said. At least 2,000 arrests have been made in connection with Philadelphia's George Floyd protests, all of which the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office are investigating.
In another incident, Morris said he saw an officer arrest a protester who was kneeling on the ground while chanting “F*** the police” and “Black Lives Matter” alongside hundreds of other protesters.
If police officers resort to violence after protesters chant obscenities about their profession, Vincent said she believes they should not be allowed to be a member of the police department. Although the demonstrations turned violent, she still believes it is important to be involved in the movement.
“I feel like I have a duty to protest,” Vincent said. “I feel like I need to be out there, because it’s one thing to post online, but I feel like I need to be on the front lines and tell the police to stop killing us.”
Morris said that as the violence persisted during the May demonstration, protestors told one another to remain strong and peaceful.
“We’re sick of having this conversation, we’re sick of protesting for the same thing, [be]cause if we stop today, we’ll be back here tomorrow,” Morris said.