Philly lifts curfew; marchers advocate for incarcerated people amid COVID-19

There will be no citywide curfew in Philadelphia this evening for the first time in more than a week, city officials announced on Sunday.

Hundreds of protesters gather at Eastern State Penitentiary

Hundreds of protesters gather at Eastern State Penitentiary for a rally against police brutality and mass incarceration. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Updated: 6:20 p.m.


There will be no citywide curfew in Philadelphia this evening for the first time in more than a week, city officials announced on Sunday.

The city announced there are also no vehicular traffic restrictions or street closures in Center City, another departure from recent days.

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The move came as the city entered its ninth day of demonstrations over police brutality and the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of a police officer. The officer, Derek Chauvin, now faces a second-degree murder charge.

A massive peaceful demonstration at the Philadelphia Museum of Art set the tone for Saturday’s protests.

Compared to the previous Saturday’s demonstrations — pockets of which ultimately devolved into looting and tense confrontations with police — this huge gathering was calm and highly organized. Protesters distributed pallets of bottled water, snacks, hand sanitizer and other supplies, and registered voters.

Protesters gathered for a Black Lives Matter protest at Lake Lenape Park
Protesters gathered for a Black Lives Matter protest at Lake Lenape Park in Perkasie, Pa. Sunday afternoon. (Courtesy of Jake Heaton)
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Rallies were held across the Philadelphia region Sunday, including in Sellersville and Perkasie in Bucks County, West Chester in Chester County and Gloucester City, New Jersey.

Hundreds urge Wolf to release more people from prisons during COVID-19

Roughly 200 people are gathered at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia’s Fairmount neighborhood for an “incarcerated lives matter” demonstration. The group wanted to raise awareness about the disproportionate number of incarcerated Black people due to over-policing, and to demand that low-risk offenders be released as COVID-19 remains a threat in state prisons and county jails.

So far, Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections has released 159 of the roughly 1,200 incarcerated people eligible under an emergency program created to help mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus behind bars. Advocates say the state is moving too slowly.

“We’re crying out and demanding the governor do what he needs to do,” said Dana Lomax-Williams with the Delaware County chapter of the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration.

Organizers said they’d received letters from people incarcerated at several state prisons who described a lack of medical attention and unsanitary conditions.

A handful of local organizers have taken part in a rolling hunger strike since May 28 in an effort to stand in solidarity with those incarcerated.

Martha Williams, with the Philadelphia chapter of the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration, started Sunday at 3 p.m. and hopes to continue the strike if she can’t visit her son in prison Monday. Williams said she’s been denied visits in recent weeks and it’s unclear why.

“They don’t only have George Floyd in the street, they have George Floyd inside the system,” she said.

Jackson Kusiak, with Free People Strike, is on his ninth day drinking only water and electrolytes, and plans to continue his hunger strike until the most vulnerable to COVID-19 are released. Kusiak said it’s his duty to put his body on the line and help families like Williams’.

“As a white person, the police were built to protect me and my property and my claim to stolen land,” said Kusiak. “The police were originally here as a military force to push the indigenous people out and then they existed to police the Black people who were in slavery.”

Speakers, such as Mike Africa, Jr., also talked about the need to abolish police departments, a demand that’s also been made by several local and national organizations, including the Philly chapter of Black Lives Matter.

“If these police believe in equality, then why are they only kneeling now?” Africa asked the crowd. “Why did it take then all these years to get down on that knee?”

Africa said one of the largest instances of police brutality in Philadelphia was the 1985 MOVE bombing, when the city dropped an explosive on the West Philly home of the radical Black liberation group. Eleven people were killed, including five children. This year, to mark the 35th anniversary of the, current and former officials have called on the city to formally apologize.

As he spoke to the crowd of the need to start anew, Africa, a member of MOVE, carried a poster of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted in the 1981 shooting death of police officer Daniel Faulkner and maintains his innocence. Africa said Abu-Jamal should be freed because he had been targeted by police for his connections to the MOVE organization.

Africa and the crowd brought their demands to police headquarters in Center City, where they spent several minutes chanting in the direction of officers and members of the National Guard who stood behind metal barricades.

Protesters like Keifonna Ferguson, who made the trip from Norristown, tried to have a conversation with officers who stared ahead in silence.

“I know they got to eat and work for their family, but enough is enough,” Ferguson said. “Stop letting these people kill your own people.”

Ferguson said she was moved to see one officer tear up as she asked them to do better, but she said she would continue marching until she saw changes in prisons and policing.

After the stop at police headquarters, the crowd headed to Gov. Tom Wolf’s Philadelphia office to make their demands, then continued on to City Hall. The protesters dispersed shortly after 5 p.m.

Doctors rally to end systemic racism in health care

On Sunday morning, roughly 100 doctors and Black Lives Matter protesters gathered to call attention to the systemic racism they say is entrenched in health care.

“When people think of Black Lives Matter, they think of police brutality,” said third-year medical resident Sarita Metzger. “That’s huge. That’s what they should think of, but I think we also forget how structural racism is.”

Dr. Sarita Metzger
Dr. Sarita Metzger, a former resident at Hahnemann Hospital, speaks to a crowd of about 100, during a protest against healthcare inequality, held on the first anniversary of the closing of the hospital. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Metzger rallied with dozens of her peers in front of Hahnemann University Hospital, a symbol of how the system is failing Black residents, health care providers said.

It’s been almost one year since Hahnemann University Hospital announced it would close, citing millions of dollars in monthly losses.

Hahnemann served about 40,000 patients a year, two-thirds of whom had government insurance, such as Medicaid and Medicare.

“Hahnemann primarily served Black patients, Black patients without insurance. They were poor, indigent and the city just let it go,” said Metzger, who was a resident at the hospital until it closed. “That would have never have happened if they were serving other populations.”

But demonstrators said the flaws in the nation’s health care system stretch far beyond Hahnemann’s closure. Metzger and others point to how Black residents don’t have the same quality treatment other patients have.

Just look at how Black communities have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in Philadelphia and across the United States, they said.

“It’s because they’re not getting the testing and other care that they need compared to other people,” said Metzger. “So when we say Black Lives Matter, it’s across the board.”

Kevin D’Mello said COVID-19 hit Black communities the hardest because of an “intermingling of racist systems,” including racial segregation, which makes it more likely for African Americans to live in more densely populated areas with less access to grocery stores and health care resources.

“There are a disproportionate number of Blacks working as essential workers, many of them with no paid sick leave,” said D’Mello. “So on top of being at an increased risk of getting sick, even once they get sick, they can’t afford to stay home and keep others safe.”

Correction: Due to an editing error, this story has been updated to reflect that roughly 1,200 incarcerated people are eligible for release from state prisons under Pennsylvania’s emergency program to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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