Police brutality, funding protests fan across region for 3rd consecutive Saturday

Mike Africa, Jr. (center) and demonstrators protest in West Philadelphia, in the neighborhood where police dropped a bomb on the MOVE organization in 1985, killing 11 Black residents. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Mike Africa, Jr. (center) and demonstrators protest in West Philadelphia, in the neighborhood where police dropped a bomb on the MOVE organization in 1985, killing 11 Black residents. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Updated 6:49 p.m.

Large-scale demonstrations fanned out across the Philadelphia region Saturday, for a third consecutive weekend of public gatherings demanding reforms to policing and an end to systemic racism. At least nine separate events were planned throughout the day.

Starting at noon in West Philadelphia, people began convening near the Osage Avenue site of the 1985 MOVE bombing, where 11 Black residents were killed by the city’s police department. Coordinated by The MOVE Organization, Black Lives Matter Philly, and several other groups, the action aims to protest the militarization of the city’s police department and show solidarity with Black Americans killed by law enforcement.

The crowd of about 500 took over the intersection of 63rd Street and Osage Avenue. There were widespread calls to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, a Black Panther member and longtime supporter of the MOVE organization who has been incarcerated for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner since 1982. Abu-Jamal and his supporters have long maintained his innocence, and his case has garnered international media attention.

Demonstrators protest in West Philadelphia, in the neighborhood where police dropped a bomb on the MOVE organization in 1985, killing 11 Black residents. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Some stopped to take pictures at 6221 Osage Ave., the exact location where the city dropped the bomb on some of its residents 35 years ago.

And in true West Philly fashion, neighbors came out on their porches and roofs to chant with protesters as they made their way along Pine Street.

Demonstrators protest in West Philadelphia, in the neighborhood where police dropped a bomb on the MOVE organization in 1985, killing 11 Black residents. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

One neighbor, Aliya Sharaz, yelled, “Walk for me!” to protesters as she put her fist in the air on her porch. She can’t march anymore — though she did when she was younger. Sharaz also shouted “Free Russell Shoatz!” — her brother, who has been incarcerated for 32 years.

From Osage Avenue, they marched to nearby Malcolm X Park.

Among the speakers calling for Abu-Jamal’s release was Mike Africa Jr. — the son of MOVE members Mike Africa Sr. and Debbie Sims Africa, both of whom were incarcerated for decades and were recently released.

Africa Jr. said there’s a line of continuity between police violence then and now, and the changes needed go beyond electoral politics.

“The people want justice, and we don’t want it in November,” Africa Jr. said. “We want it now. We ain’t waiting for Donald Trump to be removed from office. We want it now.”

Protesters also chanted expletives decrying former Mayor and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo, whose statue and mural honoring him have both been removed in the wake of civil unrest.

Tatzyahna Dumorrocco, 20 (left) and Makayla Coleman, 14 (right) lead chants on 52nd Street in West Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The three weeks of protests in Philadelphia growing out of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis have focused on police violence. Yet West Philly resident Kitty Heite said the Philadelphia Police Department’s actions on 52nd Street on May 31 have been “virtually ignored.”

Philadelphia police fired tear gas and drove military-style vehicles on 52nd Street that Sunday, as protesters barricaded an intersection and others looted shops along the business corridor and set multiple police cars on fire.

Heite said the police occupied the neighborhood until 2 a.m., “antagonizing and arresting people,” and she is frustrated that the police actions that day did not get as much media attention as the I-676 tear-gassing incident. 

“This was the most targeted military-style attack I’ve ever seen on a residential neighborhood in the U.S. in recent memory,” Heite said. “This isn’t the first time the city has tried to ignore, the media has tried to ignore attacks on Black neighborhoods in Philadelphia. It’s absurd to me that there hasn’t been more coverage about something that was so egregious and so heinous.”

Protesters in West Philadelphia marched from the site of the MOVE bombing to Malcolm X park in protest of racial injustice. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Nathaniel Miller volunteers with Up Against the Law, a Philly-based organization that helps activists know their rights, and does legal observations of police at protests to ensure safety.

His organization also works with lawyers who help protesters who are arrested receive legal counsel.

Miller has been involved with social movements in Philadelphia for 17 years, and said he’s never seen anything like the police violence on protesters he saw last week as they fired tear gas and rubber bullets.

“Of course, Black and brown communities know that violence all the time,” Miller said. “Violence from Philly cops is nothing new to them, but certainly seeing it being used on protesters is a new thing.”

Protesters confront police at the 18th District, asking, “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?” (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Due to the protests, road closures were put into effect. Streets were closed from Fifth to 18th  and from Walnut to Vine, with no expected impact on SEPTA service, though traffic was snarled for hours. No curfew was planned in the city.

At 3 p.m., organizers with Philadelphia Socialist Alternative and several other progressive groups set up at the North Broad Street site being developed for the city’s new police headquarters.

As helicopters flew overhead, the crowd of several hundred protesters assembled between Pearl and Noble Streets demanded that the city adjust its budget priorities, diminishing spending on the police department and implementing new tax policies to add funding for social programs.

Members and supporters of the Party for Socialism and Liberation and Socialist Alternative gathered outside 400 N. Broad Street, soon to be Philadelphia police’s new headquarters, to demand the defunding of police in the city. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Kah Yangni, a former seasonal worker at the Free Library of Philadelphia, said they and dozens of others were just laid off from their jobs. Yangni condemned the disparities between the city’s library budget and the police budget, which is 20 times larger.

Kah Yangni spoke at rally demanding Philadelphia defund their police department and allocate the funds to the community. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“It is painful to know that I lost my job, but it’s more painful that the city is choosing to fund police buildings and military weapons to tear-gas us instead of afterschool workers like me,” Yangni said.

Tamar Wilson, an organizer with Philadelphia Socialist Alternative, spoke while standing in the bed of a U-Haul pickup truck. He said this generation will end white supremacy.

“We are going to end systemic and institutional racism,” Wilson said. “This generation. We can do it, standing together, linking arms, standing in solidarity.”

Members of an Aztec dance troupe performed at a rally Saturday protesting racial injustice. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

After several speakers, the group started moving south on Broad Street, then east on Market Street.

Speakers with Socialist Alternative brought a speaker and kept the chants going as people marched over a mile.

Protesters held photos of Black people who lost their lives to police as they marched down 3rd Street in Old City. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The protesters came to a halt at Third and Race streets — near where Mayor Jim Kenney lives in Old City.

About 6:15 p.m., the rally wound down with a final round of chanting, “All power to the people, and none … to the cops.”

Roughly 100 demonstrators stopped to chant in front of the current police headquarters building at Seventh and Race Streets.

Other demonstrations were planned Saturday in Germantown, along Ridge Avenue in Northwest Philadelphia, and on West Philadelphia’s commercial corridor. A solidarity bike ride beginning in North Philadelphia was scheduled, as were separate actions in Upper Darby, Springfield, Montgomery County, and Camden. Organizers of an event at the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps invited brass musicians from the tri-state area to bring instruments and play together for three hours.

Two weeks ago, the city saw its first mass demonstrations sparked by Floyd’s murder, with property destruction, widespread looting, and what the Philadelphia Inquirer recently documented was a haphazard police response that culminated in a widely criticized use of force against peaceful protesters on I-676.

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