The Missouri grand jury’s decision yesterday not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown sparked protests in Philadelphia.
Large crowds moved in relative peace through the city and a heavy police presence lined the edges.
There was little audible reaction inside the United Methodist Church on Arch Street, where several dozen people came to watch the announcement of the grand jury’s decision. Clergy leaders, their heads bowed, led a moment of silence that lasted more than four minutes, before breaking into a now familiar call-and-response:
“Hands up, don’t shoot. Hands up, don’t shoot.”
Outside, a crowd that swelled to hundreds snaked through Center City. Some walked with arms raised.
“The state killed Mike Brown!!” many chanted.
Ray Gary says the shooting is proof that police can act like “vigilantes.”
“People are tired of being treated like animals, of being treated like second class citizens, being told that their lives don’t matter,” Gary said. “Being told that they can’t walk down the street, that they got to watch how they act, watch how they look. You can’t even walk out the house and be yourself, as a black and brown person.”
There were a mix of races and ages in the crowd. Delphine Matthews marched slowly at the back, carrying a poster of her son, who she says died earlier this year in a shooting. She hoped the gathering remained calm.
“I’m praying as I walk, and hope that it doesn’t resort to that, because it is not going to bring them back,” she said.
There were reports of minor clashes with police, as protesters attempted to march onto I-95. But it remained by most accounts a peaceful evening.
Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, senior pastor of Mother Bethel AME Church says nothing would be gained by tearing things down.
“I’ve been in America all my life, and this is taken right from a script that we’ve seen all over the country, going back to the days of Emmit Till, when my mother was a child, up until a present: Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Eric Gardener,” said Tylers. “So I say to my people, that we have to stay awake and continue to fight. That one battle doesn’t win it all, but you got to fight everyday.”
That fight continued past 1a.m., moving along Delaware Ave. and South Street, then through Chinatown and eventually back toward City Hall.
Mayor Michael Nutter did not join the protesters, but said he was very upset with how the case was handled in Ferguson.
“They have botched this entire tragedy so badly, from start to finish, that it has left obviously, the folks in Ferguson, beyond disappointed and I would say for myself just disgusted,” he said. Nutter said he had still not heard an explanation for why Michael Brown, who was unarmed, was shot ten times by officer Wilson.