A housing protest outside of Mayor Jim Kenney’s Old City condo ended in a scuffle that activists and police say left five hospitalized –– including a police sergeant with a broken finger. Two activists face possible criminal charges for allegedly assaulting an officer.
Organizers with the Philadelphia chapter of grassroots political group ACT UP have been staging demonstrations dubbed “Tuesdays With Kenney” outside of the mayor’s Race Street apartment building since June. A combination protest and cookout, the demonstrations call on the Kenney administration to create more housing for Philadelphians facing homelessness and overhaul the city’s Office of Homeless Services.
This Tuesday, Philadelphia police officers from the Civil Affairs, Traffic and Narcotics Strike Force units showed up, too. Officers from the narcotics strike unit were purportedly there to provide assistance with crowd and traffic control, according to a PPD spokesperson.
What happened next is disputed.
According to ACT UP spokesperson Max Ray-Riek, “the Philadelphia Police Department forcibly removed us and refused us our First Amendment right to protest. Officers shoved people,” he said, and “stepped on or kicked people, grabbed people by their throats and dragged them.”
The Philadelphia Police Department said an activist had trespassed on a private driveway in the rear of the condo complex and refused multiple orders from police to leave.
According to PPD spokesperson Sgt. Eric Gripp, a sergeant with the Civil Affairs Unit “placed his hand on the individual’s back to escort them off the property.” At that point, Gripp said, the individual turned and struck the sergeant. The two scuffled, and the individual ultimately fled back into the crowd of dozens of protesters.
There, additional officers intervened to make an arrest, but the individual allegedly “bit a [civil affairs] officer on the forearm,” according to Gripp, while a second protester “began to swing and throw punches which struck the [civil affairs] Sergeant.”
Police said both protesters were arrested and transported to Jefferson Hospital for treatment before being processed. The police sergeant was also transported to Jefferson and treated for a broken finger before being released. The other officer did not request medical treatment for the alleged forearm bite.
The department has declined to release body camera footage of the incident.
ACT UP Organizer Jamaal Henderson said he witnessed the encounter in the condo parking lot and refuted the police description.
“The sergeant did not ‘place’ his hand on her back,” Henderson said. He claimed the individual “wasn’t moving fast” enough for the officer, who then instigated an assault.
The group confirmed the PPD’s account that the two arrested activists required medical attention, and said two other activists also went to the hospital after the scuffle.
The two people arrested were charged with assaulting an officer and other offenses before being released on their own recognizance. A spokesperson for Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said both the incident and body camera footage were receiving “supervisory level review” in accordance with department policy for arrests at protests.
In a statement, ACT UP organizers said Tuesday marked the first time police had broken up one of their demonstrations at the Kenney residence. The statement accused the mayor of sending police to intentionally disrupt the protest — and obliquely referenced the heavy-handed police tactics cosigned by the Kenney administration during the 2020 summer protests over police brutality.
A spokesperson for Kenney said the mayor “learned of the incident after it was over and was not on site during the protest activity.”
Founded in the 1980s, ACT UP’s mission was rooted in drawing attention to the AIDS crisis. Later, chapters began organizing around other social inequality issues that impact people living with HIV/AIDS, particularly among the homeless population. The group often engages in “direct action,” including demonstrations outside officials’ homes, to draw attention to issues like affordable housing.
Last year, ACT Up activists targeted then-Philadelphia Managing Director Brian Abernathy’s home. One activist sent a funerary wreath to Abernathy’s house as part of the protest — and was later interrogated by the counterterrorism unit, WHYY’s PlanPhilly reported.
At an earlier protest outside the mayor’s residence, in June, organizers called on the city to reopen hotel rooms formerly used as relief housing during the pandemic, the creation of a civilian housing oversight board, and the dismissal of all administrators at the city’s Office of Homeless Services, including director Elizabeth Hersh.
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