For Immediate Release
Philly Police At War With Black Lives Matter Activists
PHILADELPHIA - Despite the national outcry over police violence against Black people, the violence Black women specifically face is often left out of the conversation. Police assault and murder, domestic violence and sexual assault claim the lives of far too many Black women, transgendered individuals and even children.
As part of a national day of remembrance for these victims initiated by Black Lives Matter under the call # SayHerName , nearly 50 people had gathered at the corner of Cecil B. Moore and N. Broad Streets in Philadelphia in the early evening of May 21 for a candlelight vigil. Participants used sidewalk chalk to write the names of Black women and children killed in senseless acts of violence, while others read aloud from a list of victims’ names. Just days earlier, a transgender woman London Kiki Chanel was brutally stabbed to death not far from the rally location, a victim of domestic violence.
Erica MinesSimmons, one of the organizers of the vigil, said, “Leaving women out of the Black Lives Matter conversation is no longer acceptable. As a mother, daughter and sister it is my duty to honor the names of those women whose lives have been stolen. I have to pay respect to those who suffered, so I can live.”
What began as a solemn and heartfelt remembrance ceremony turned tense, however, when officers of Philadelphia’s 22nd Police District surrounded the memorial site, blocking traffic and intimidating vigilgoers.
Video taken at the scene shows police directing the Philadelphia Fire Department to use fire hoses to wash away the names chalked on the sidewalk. Chalking on sidewalks is not considered illegal in Philadelphia, where it’s common to see people use this form of expression.
Soon the tension gave way to police violence. When activists leaving the vigil stopped to question a police arrest of a homeless veteran who had been thrown off a SEPTA bus for lack of the $2.25 fare, the police responded by putting one man in a choke hold, and pushing two women to the ground. One of the women, in her early 60s, suffered multiple broken bones in her wrist.
Witnesses reported that well over 50 police, accompanied by two helicopters, flooded the scene in a veritable police riot. Five activists were arrested and held at the 22nd Police District headquarters, four of them for almost 22 hours without a phone call. In an interview taken shortly after their release, three of the women described being kept in cruel conditions and threatened with physical violence by officers who repeatedly referred to them as “bi****s.”
When activists gathered outside the jail to support those inside, three more were arrested. This can not be seen as an isolated incident of overreaction by rankandfile cops. This attack was led by higher level officers, and comes just two months after the release of a report by the Department of Justice that identified over 400 cases of use of excessive force by Philadelphia police from 2007 to 2013. The 22nd Police District topped the list for reported abuse cases.
Nonetheless, the Philadelphia incident is not an isolated one. Over the past few weeks, police have attacked similar Black Lives Matter protests in New York City, Cleveland and other cities, beating and arresting hundreds of demonstrators. National Guard forces were brought out in Baltimore where a curfew was used to make mass arrests. Officials in Oakland, Calif. have imposed a ban on protests after dark and other cities are talking of similar tactics.
Much the way they did to crush the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011, local police departments are working with the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI for coordinated crackdowns on massive protests against the police. The recent attacks, purposely designed to crush protests, must be seen as part of a new level of coordinated repression.
The police riot in Philadelphia on May 21st shows that their war against Black and Brown youth is intensifying despite all the talk of reforming the police and the numerous Justice Department investigations of police departments. Laniece Williams, a coordinator with the REAL Justice Coalition stated “It’s obvious from this incident that the Justice Department report on the Philadelphia Police Department has no teeth and that Commissioner Charles Ramsey has no intentions of carrying out the DoJ recommendations.”
For all his talk about 21st Century policing, and numerous meetings with President Obama and the heads of other major police forces, Ramsey’s own department remains as brutal as ever, following a pattern seen across the U.S. While incidents of police attacks averaged one every 29 hours in 2014, in the first quarter of 2015 they have averaged one every 8 hours.
Talk of reforms has also done nothing to address cuts in education and mass incarceration that also threaten Black and Brown youth. While Philadelphia schools remain severely underfunded Mayor Michael Nutter is pushing ahead with plans to build a new multimillion dollar county prison.
The first year anniversaries of the police murder of Eric Gardner in NYC and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., are just a few months away and there are no signs that the Black Lives Matter uprising is going away. It has only grown stronger as it embraces the fight against mass incarceration, for improved education and for workers’ right to a livable minimum wage. Increasingly more women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are taking key leadership roles in this movement, making it more radical and multinational.
Yet rather than addressing the viable concerns of these youth and their allies, police departments like Philadelphia’s are waging increasing war on Black Lives Matter activists.
The Philly Coalition for REAL Justice knows the only way to end police brutality and corruption is to abolish the police and the racist system they protect. As police violence and repression throughout the country continues to intensify, more people are beginning to realize that if we want to keep the peace, we’ll have to ditch the police.