A protest against the rise of the white supremacy movement flooded Broad Street near Philadelphia City Hall Wednesday night.
The event was organized by POWER, an interfaith group, in response to the white supremacist and neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday.
That rally turned deadly when James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old Ohio man described as an admirer of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, according to police. A 32-year-old woman was killed and more than a dozen were hurt.
In Philadelphia, thousands of protesters blocked off North Broad Street Wednesday night to condemn white supremacy, racism, and President Donald Trump. Demonstrators also called for removing a statue of the city’s controversial former mayor and police commissioner Frank Rizzo.
The event brought out people who had never protested before, including Jason Woolf of North Philadelphia.
“I just couldn’t sit by anymore and not do anything,” said Woolf. “I don’t know what I’m doing here but at least it’s something.”
The organizers connected the violence in Charlottesville to what they call “systems of white supremacy,” such as the criminal justice system and public school funding that favors white students.
“What happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, has happened to African people in this country for more than 300 years,” said community organizer Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture. “It’s nothing new. That type of racism and white supremacy takes place when you close our schools and our neighborhoods, and you put more police in our schools that are left.”
She said protesters and supporters should also pay attention to gentrification, raising the minimum wage and policing.
For instance, Nkrumah-Ture pointed to a case from 2015 in which a dozen mostly white Philadelphia police officers punched and kicked Tyree Carroll, a 24-year-old unarmed black man, while he was on the ground. An internal affairs investigation found no wrongdoing by the police, but a judge ruled earlier this year that Carroll was stopped illegally.
Quite a few protesters brought their young children with them. Amy Emmett, accompanied by her 7-year-old son, said she was partly marching for him.
“In the last several years … I hid in my white privilege in my economic privilege,” she said. “Activism with the possibility of confrontation has frightened me.”
But now Emmett said, she cannot stay silent while others are hateful.
“There are so many organizations online — we’re signing petitions, we’re calling our representatives. It’s kind of wonderfully endless right now the ways you can plug in and be supportive,” she said.
While the rally ended peacefully at the Arch Street Methodist Church, a small group of demonstrators lingered near the Rizzo statue, which was guarded by rows of police officers behind barricades.
After some moments of tension as protesters taunted the officers, the group dispersed.
Elsewhere in Pennsylvania
Dozens of demonstrations have popped up to condemn racial hatred and to call for unity.
A Wednesday evening rally in the Cumberland County city of Carlisle packed the town square with several hundred people.
Mayor Tim Scott said he didn’t expect such a crowd but said he wasn’t surprised.
Even in a town like Carlisle, where white supremacy doesn’t seem like a big threat, the issue of racial equality still looms large, he said.
“There’s always going to be an undercurrent,” he said. “That’s why it’s important to bring it out into the light and not be afraid to talk about it.”
Lots of ideological groups have committed “acts of evil” in American history, said State Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland, who spoke at the rally.
But one, he said, is most important right now.
“Those types of arguments end up being a distraction from the fact that a white supremacist domestic terrorist killed a woman,” Bloom said. “That’s what we need to be condemning.”
He called the recent rise of white supremacy “unprecedented” in the modern era.
Other rallies took place in Pittsburgh, Lancaster, and a number of other cities.