Protesters call to divert police dollars; counter-protesters support South Philly police captain
Two separate protests Tuesday criticized Mayor Jim Kenney’s budget priorities and suggest the police budget could be used to fix them.
Updated 7:52 p.m.
Roughly 100 people gathered outside Philadelphia City Hall to protest Mayor Jim Kenney’s “immoral” budget proposal, which calls for steep cuts to a variety of city departments, including those responsible for coordinating and providing social services.
“Since Mayor Kenney has been in office, we have raised the police budget by $120 million. And the same time there’s been cuts to housing, there have been cuts to mental services, drug abuse services,” said Jamaal Henderson with ACT UP.
Henderson said the city needs to shift its budget priorities to support efforts to end homelessness, lift up the city’s arts and culture sector, and provide sanitation workers with the personal protective gear during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We can reinvest in our Black and brown communities. We can raise the public education level in Philadelphia to where it should be — not where it is,” said Henderson to applause.
The police department was in line to receive $19 million in new funding next fiscal year. Kenney abruptly scrapped that proposal in the face of public outcry and a veto-proof majority of City Council stating they were unwilling to approve an increased funding for the department.
Demonstrators gathered in front of the Octavius Catto statute among more than two-dozen black garbage bags fashioned to resemble bodies. The garbage bags symbolized both the lives lost to police brutality, including George Floyd in Minneapolis, as well as those from the African American community who have died from COVID-19.
Across the country, the respiratory virus has disproportionately killed Black residents compared to white residents.
“These are tragedies and rather than working to keep people safe, the mayor has shown his priorities are all wrong,” said Staci Moore with the Philadelphia Housing Coalition for Affordable Communities.
Less than two miles away, another group of protesters gathered at the bottom of the Art Museum steps echoed calls to “defund” the Philadelphia Police Department and invest more in the arts and human services.
Kenney’s budget proposal eliminates the Philadelphia Cultural Fund and the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, which administers it.
“We demand a reimagining of safety,” said Anne Ishii, executive director of the Asian Arts Initiative.
‘Reverse this retaliatory demotion’
A group of South Philly residents organized a Tuesday afternoon rally to support police Capt. Louis Campione, who was reassigned Monday after coming under fire for his handling of a series of demonstrations around the Christopher Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza.
By 5 p.m., more than 100 people had gathered at the plaza near the intersection of South Broad St. and Oregon Ave.
Passing cars honked their horns in support. Others shouted “Campione” out of their windows.
“I was shocked,” said Delaware County resident Vincent Smith of Campione being reassigned. “Just how good of a guy he is and how much he does for the community. He never asked for anything back.
“This man was probably one of the kindest, caring men I’ve ever encountered as a policeman. All he wanted was for the city to have peace,” said South Philadelphia resident Maryann Sestito, adding she has family members who work for the police department.
A few counter-protesters were on hand. A line of police separated them from the rally-goers.
Details about the rally were posted to the Facebook page for the group “Taking Our South Philadelphia Streets Back.”
“As you know, Captain Campione never misses a meeting, a phone call, an event, a funeral, a family crisis, an accident or a community event. We need to show him our full support & demand that the mayor and police commissioner reverse this retaliatory demotion,” reads part of the notice, written in all capital letters.
Campione, who led the First Police District since 2010, was transferred to the Standards and Accountability unit, which is responsible for auditing certain department functions. He will be replaced by a captain previously assigned to the police department’s Internal Affairs Bureau.
A spokesman for the department said Campione was not removed from the district as a result of recent demonstrations in front of the Columbus monument, mostly attended by white men, some of whom carried bats and other weapons. But some observers told WHYYNews/Billy Penn those demonstrations were part of the department’s decision-making process.
By 6:30 p.m., tensions were rising among those defending the statue and those who were against it. Meanwhile, contractors were putting the final wooden boards around the statue to protect it, while its future is being decided.
On Monday, Mayor Kenney sent a letter to the Philadelphia Art Commission, asking it to start a public process that would consider removing the Columbus statue.
Some scuffles and shoving broke out between the two groups, as police attempted to separate them.
At least 4 rows of cops separating protesters and counterprotesters. Someone from the pro-Columbus crowd laments “we’re not going to be able to fight. There are too many cops here.” pic.twitter.com/29s2Vuhr3v
— Michaela Winberg (@mwinberg_) June 16, 2020
At least two counter-protesters were attacked by members of the group that gathered in front of the statue over the weekend, as well as on Monday.
Campione drew scrutiny after a video posted to Twitter showed him telling a reporter from a left-wing news organization to leave or risk being arrested for “inciting a riot.”
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