A Philadelphia-based anti-capitalist group appears to have been responsible for the civil unrest that occurred near Penn's campus on Aug. 25.
A group of approximately 60 people gathered in Clark Park on 43rd Street and Baltimore Avenue at roughly 9:30 p.m. that night. The group, dressed in all black and wearing black masks, proceeded to damage several buildings on 40th Street, including breaking windows of the School of Dental Medicine building and the PNC Bank branch on 40th and Walnut Streets.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a post published hours after the events occurred on Philly Anti-Capitalist, an anti-authoritarian community news website, said that the "Solidarity with Kenosha, WI demo was more impressive than usual." The post went on to describe some of the property damage and tactics the group used, praising the "collective intelligence" of the group.
"There was good communication, barricading, and improvisation," the post read. "Folks caught and lost a police tail and dispersed smoothly due to barricades and quick decision making all the while staying level headed and tight in stressful moments."
The unrest came on the back of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who was shot in the back seven times by a Kenosha officer on Aug. 23. Blake is paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the shooting, and protests have erupted in Kenosha and around the country in the days since the shooting.
Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said there is an ongoing investigation into the unrest, and the Penn and Philadelphia Police departments are working closely together to identify the people who caused the damage.
"These are not protesters. They are anarchists, they are Antifa. That is how they identify themselves," Rush said of the group. The website refers to itself as a place for anti-capitalists, anti-authoritarians, and anarchists, but it does not directly reference Antifa, a decentralized network of anti-fascists that attempts to fight against white supremacy, often by counter-protesting.
In addition to the broken windows and a vandalized police car, the group spray-painted the phrase "nerds call cops“ onto the exteriors of Gregory College House and Allegro Pizza and Grill. Security camera footage from Allegro, obtained by the Inquirer, showed the group of people marching along 40th Street, while one person spray-painted the outside of the pizza restaurant and another smashed an ATM machine with a baseball bat.
An initial UPenn alert about the unrest was sent to the Penn community at 9:37 p.m. on Aug. 25. The Division of Public Safety updated its website with a more detailed explanation of the events at approximately 10:00 p.m. that night, before an all-clear update was issued at 10:21 p.m. In most cases, the Penn community does not receive any direct explanation from DPS about crimes outside of the UPenn Alerts. But on Aug. 29, four days after the unrest, DPS sent an email to the Penn community with a detailed explanation of what had occurred.
DPS said the decision to send the follow-up email was in part because of the "ongoing unrest in the city," as well as the upcoming start of the semester, which began on Sept. 1. Large protests against police brutality and racial injustice began in Philadelphia on May 30 and continued throughout the summer, though becoming smaller and less frequent in more recent weeks. A protest in response to the Blake shooting took place in Center City on Aug. 26.
DPS noted that the lack of a normal public safety orientation for incoming first-year and transfer students also factored in to the decision.
Following the incident, Rush said DPS received calls and emails from Penn parents and other community members concerned about any potential reductions in staff to Penn Police. She emphasized that the department is fully staffed and is preparing in case of similar attempts at property destruction.
"We are gearing up in case they try this again," Rush said.
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