Hundreds gathered in front of City Hall on Friday evening to protest police brutality and racial injustice after a police officer shot and paralyzed Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.
The rally, which was endorsed by campus groups Penn Community for Justice and Police Free Penn, included an hour of speeches at City Hall before the crowd marched to the Philadelphia Police headquarters on Race Street between 7th and 8th streets.
Although the event was spurred by the shooting of Blake – who has remained in the hospital since the shooting on Aug. 23 – it follows a summer of protests across the nation over killings of Black people by police officers. Blake was shot seven times in the back by Kenosha officer Rusten Sheskey, paralyzing him from the waist down.
"We are not here outraged over an isolated incident of police violence in Kenosha, Wisconsin," 2016 Graduate School of Education graduate and 2020 School of Social Policy and Practice graduate Sarah Min told the crowd of protesters in front of City Hall. "We are here because we are sick and tired of the perpetuation of state sanctioned violence across the nation and especially in our very own city."
Min, a member of PCJ, also also explained in her speech that PCJ’s two main demands are that Penn “institutes police free alternatives for community safety,” and for the University to pay PILOTS, or payments in lieu of taxes that go to local government agencies.
“As an alum of Penn Graduate School of Education and School of Social Policy and Practice at Penn, I know that Penn is an institution that upholds white supremacy and invests in policing to protect their stolen resources and tax free properties, rather than investing in schools and local communities,” Min said.
Spokesperson for PCJ and College senior Kara Cloud criticized Penn for its ties to the Philadelphia Police, who came under fire for using tear gas on protesters during city-wide demonstrations after the police killing of George Floyd in May.
Cloud said that actions Penn as an institution have taken so far — including commissioning an independent review of the Division of Public Safety and removing the statue of slave owner George Whitefield from the Quad — are gestures that are not enough to address racial injustice.
“What Penn has done so far is a lot of symbolic change, or symbolic statements about change," Cloud told The Daily Pennsylvanian. "They sent emails out this summer that addressed the George Floyd civil unrest, and they are not actually addressing the active part that they play every day."
Other speakers included A’Brianna Morgan, an organizer from Reclaim Philadelphia, and Mecca Bullock, a member of the Party for Socialism for Liberation.
“It doesn’t matter that we are not Kenosha. It doesn’t matter that we are not Minneapolis. At any point in time, any city could be a site for police terror,” Bullock said.
After the speeches ended, Bullock and other members of the PSL held a banner that read "Rise up against racism & oppression" and led the demonstrators around City Hall and on Market Street toward the Philadelphia Police headquarters. Protesters held up a variety of signs and posters, chanting “All power to the people, all power to the working class, no power to the pigs” and “Whose streets? Our streets!”
As the march continued, the chanting became more musical. To the beating of a drum and cowbell, the crowd repeatedly sang, “Back up, back up, we want our freedom, freedom! Tell these racist ass cops we don’t need em, need em!”
There was a strong police presence throughout the demonstration. Several police helicopters hovered overhead for the duration of the protest, and once protesters began marching on Market, dozens of Philadelphia police officers biked in front of and alongside the group. When the demonstrators reached the Philadelphia police headquarters, around two dozen additional officers stood guard outside the building, separated from the protesters by metal barricades.
At the Philadelphia police headquarters, Bullock spoke to the crowd again for several minutes. Then Samantha Rise, a member of Girls Rock Philly and prominent figure at civil rights protests throughout the summer, led a chant referencing Deon Kay, an 18-year-old Black man who was shot and killed by police in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 2.
Friday's rally was originally scheduled for Aug. 28, five days after the Blake shooting, but it was rescheduled twice due to severe weather forecasts. Between the originally scheduled date of the rally and Friday, outrage was sparked in another American city in response to the death of Daniel Prude.
Newly-released video shows Prude had a “spit hood,” a fabric sack used to prevent someone from biting or spitting, put over his head and was pinned to the ground by police in Rochester, N.Y. A week later, Prude died in a hospital, and an autopsy report concluded he died from “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint,” according to the New York Times. Prude's death occurred in March, but raw police camera footage was just released last week.
Cloud said the Kay and Prude incidents are prime examples of how racism and police brutality are systemic issues, not personal, and part of the reason why protesting has become such a large part of her daily life now.
“It’s definitely a somber realization that every weekend, basically, my plans are booked. I’m going to a protest today, I’m going to a protest tomorrow, I have one on Monday for Labor Day,” Cloud said. “That’s just the reality that we’re living in now.”
Also among Friday's protesters were a group of about 15 people dressed in all black and wearing black masks. The group carried a banner that said “Fuck the Police. 13 12. BLM” and covered themselves with black umbrellas for the majority of the march.
On 9th and Cuthbert streets, one individual from the group spray painted “ACAB” onto the side of a building, and attempted to spray paint something else before a PSL member stepped in front of the individual.
On Aug. 25, a group of about 60 people wearing similar all-black clothing were responsible for civil unrest and property damage near Penn’s campus.
The group, which appear to be part of a Philadelphia-based anti-capitalist organization, damaged several buildings on 40th Street, including breaking windows of the School of Dental Medicine building and the PNC bank.
However, it is not clear whether the group that attended the march were affiliated with those that caused unrest near Penn's campus. Two members declined to speak to the DP when approached at the protest for comment.
The protesters marched back to Dilworth Park after reaching the Police headquarters, returning at approximately 7:20 p.m. as the sun set. Bullock spoke for a third time and ended the rally by leading several chants, including “fists up, fight back." Attendees raised their fists before scattering.
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