Hundreds of demonstrators fanned out across Philadelphia on Friday night in a show of outrage over the fatal shootings of black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota, with marchers howling in the faces of police officers, paralyzing traffic and demanding justice.
On Tuesday, police officers in Baton Rouge shot and killed Alton Sterling, an encounter recorded by a bystander. The following night, Philando Castile was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in a St. Paul suburb, a grueling incident that was broadcast in real time on Facebook by his girlfriend.
“Those videos hit me in the gut,” said marcher Ethel Gilard. “I was mad, and that’s why I came out. It doesn’t seem like the police care about us. They don’t care about any of us.”
Decrying everything from the very existence of police officers in the city’s neighborhoods to the tactic known as stop-and-frisk that overwhelmingly affects black residents, protesters delivered spirited testimony and chanted slogans like, “no cop zone, they know better,” and “no justice, no peace.”
Through it all, the marchers — which poured out in two separate packs but united around 11 p.m. in front of City Hall — largely avoided clashes with police. Despite a heavy police presence, with dozens of squad cars, scores of cops on bicycles and many more bookending the marchers on foot, authorities reported no arrests.
SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel, who helped patrol the marchers all night, applauded the city’s response on Twitter for “choosing peace over violence.”
Nonetheless, the protesters had no shortage of anguish over what they see as racially biased policing in their communities.
Some struck a delicate balance between condemning over-policing and also acknowledging the slaying of five Dallas police officers by snipers Thursday night.
“I know those are human beings in those uniforms. I don’t want to see the death of those people,” said YahNe Ndgo of Germantown. “But I don’t want to see any more deaths. And I really don’t know what to do. I really don’t know what to do when they keep running around and shooting people in the way they keep shooting us,” she said.
Tensions did flare up, however, when police formed a blockage to thwart access to Roosevelt Boulevard. Loud booing and hollering, some pushing matches. One officer fell to the ground after being hit in the stomach but did not appear to sustain any serious injuries.
That isolated skirmish aside, the march spanning more than six hours remained almost completely peaceful.
“We’re just individuals trying to affect positive change in our communities by not being policed so harshly,” said Donterell McDuffie, who helped organize Friday’s demonstrations.
Erica Mines of the Philadelphia Coalition for REAL Justice helped lead the marches all night, usually at the front of the group and whipping up excitement with bullhorn-wielding Asa Khalif, who leads Pennsylvania’s Black Lives Matter chapter.
“They terrorize us, they terrorize us,” Mines said of police officers, which in fact was one of the more charitable remarks made about law enforcement. “Ain’t not soft language for these fools.”
Hanging in the back of the raucous crowd was Lamar Hargrove, shuffling slowly along by himself.
He said the recent police killings of black men sparked his ire, reflecting on earlier episodes, one from 2012 in particular, that first initiated him to become an activist.
“I’m just trying get the police to understand,” Hargrove said. “Like, our lives matter, too. I could go in that store and say, ‘I bought a bag of Skittles and an Arizona,’ and then they wanna kill me, like Trayvon Martin, for instance,” he said. “That’s crazy. It shouldn’t be that way.”
Derrick Jones and his friend watched the crowds from the porch of his house in the Nicetown section of the city. He said he was too tired to join — he just arrived home from a long day at work —but that he had sympathy with their cause.
“They’ve been killing us for the longest, and all of these cops get off, so this is what you got,” Jones said. “And everybody’s on edge now.”