The call that calmed tensions in West Philly

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3rd District CouncilmemberJamie Gauther talks to clean-up volunteers in West Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

3rd District CouncilmemberJamie Gauther talks to clean-up volunteers in West Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

After protests, looting and a heavy police response rocked the 52nd Street business corridor in West Philly on Sunday night, City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier was able to calm tensions with just one phone call. Gauthier spoke to The Why’s Annette John-Hall about why she got Mayor Jim Kenney on the phone with protestors and what they plan to do next to continue the conversation.

Hear the whole story on The Why

Interview highlights

On why she got protestors on the phone with Mayor Kenney

I came back to the [52nd Street] corridor a little later at the request of the police inspector. I think they were trying to think through what to do to end things peacefully. And they asked if I could come out and talk to some of the young people who were out there. 

When I got out there, these young people that were there were were peaceful protesters. They weren’t burning anything. They weren’t looting. And they really wanted to voice their concerns around police violence and the way that police interact within their communities … And they told me that they wanted the mayor to come. And I think, you know, that request was made because they felt if they left that protest that no one would listen to them again. And so they were not willing to leave without getting … their demands out in the open and feeling like they would be taken seriously. And so they requested that the mayor come out in person and I let them know I didn’t know if I would be able to make that happen at that moment in time, but I would do my best to get the mayor on the phone. And I called the managing director and I made the request and the mayor ended up calling me back …

We set up a follow up meeting for next Sunday in Malcolm X Park. And I hope that they come. I hope those people come because I’ll be there and I’ll have the police captains there as well.

On the impact the conversation had

When I was on the corridor earlier in the afternoon, it was terrifying and it was scary. When I was on the corridor talking to these young people, that actually was a bright spot in all of this because it was a reminder of why we do what we do and why we need to make change. Those kids deserve it …

I think that is a starting point. And I think that the anger that we’re seeing is partly is in large part about [police-community relationships], but I also think is about other things. It’s about giving our communities police when we need to be giving them good schools and giving them police when we need to be making sure that people have safe housing to live in. It’s about figuring out that our neighborhoods don’t just need to be policed. They need to be invested in our young people need to be invested in. That’s how we get out of this.

On the next steps for addressing deep racial divides in Philly

Since this situation has centered around police violence, I think we need to show people, we need to show Black people and brown people in the city specifically that we’re serious about addressing this issue. I think we need to talk about accountability. We need to take a look at the police contract. We need to stop just talking about this stuff and actually we get it done. And that would be a first step. Just a first step. Also, this is also a budget season. What has been proposed is that we cut a lot of programs that are going to help vulnerable people. I think that would be a mistake. And so I think there are clear next steps here.

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