Mayor Kenney calls for public process to decide fate of Columbus statue
Mayor Kenney said Monday night that he has initiated “a public process” to determine the future of the Christopher Columbus statue in South Philadelphia.
Kenney’s announcement came as critics and supporters — some of the latter being armed — engaged in heated confrontations for a third day at Marconi Plaza.
The mayor sent a letter to the Philadelphia Art Commission asking for the start of a public process to consider whether the statue should be removed.
Kenney said he hoped his action would help ease the tension surrounding the statue.
“I urge all South Philadelphians attempting to protect the statue to stand down and have your voices heard through the public process,” he said.
In the meantime, a “boxing apparatus” would be installed around the statue on Tuesday “in order to preserve it while the Art Commission process is followed,” the Mayor’s Office said in a news release.
Kenney said in his full statement: “The Christopher Columbus statue has been a source of controversy in Philadelphia, as have similar installations across our country. Christopher Columbus, like many historical figures, has supporters and detractors. For centuries, he has been venerated with the stories of his traversing the Atlantic and ‘discovering’ the ‘New World.’ However, his history is much more infamous. Mistakenly believing he had found a new route to India, Columbus enslaved indigenous people and punished those who failed to meet his expected service by severing limbs, or in some cases, murder.
“Surely, the totality of this history must be accounted for when considering whether to maintain a monument to this person. Given that many are now calling for the removal of the statue, and others believe it should remain, I have directed the Art Commission to review the statue, its location, and its appropriateness in a public park. We are committed to listening to all points of view and moving forward in the best way to heal our deep divides.
“I believe that a public process will allow for all viewpoints — especially those of indigenous people whose ancestors suffered under the rule of European colonizers — to be considered. It’s also my hope that by initiating this process, the current tensions in Marconi Plaza can end. I urge all South Philadelphians attempting to protect the statue to stand down and have your voices heard through the public process.”
Reflection and empowerment at Southwest Philly demonstraion
Around 200 people gathered outside a Southwest Philadelphia recreation center Monday evening to stand against police brutality and inspire the neighborhood’s young people to lift up their community and fight for equality.
The two-hour demonstration at Myers Recreation Center paid tribute to George Floyd, the Black man who died in Minneapolis police custody on Memorial Day. It was organized by Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and various community organizations, including the ABRO Foundation, the Born Leader Family, New Options More Opportunities, and the City of Dreams Coalition. Sheriff Rochelle Bilal, former Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, and 12th District police officers were also present.
“We will honor the memory of George Floyd as a moment of reflection, but most importantly of empowerment,” said Johnson. “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired,” said Bilal. “There is no reason for a chokehold anywhere in this country.”
Gathered in a section of the city greatly impacted by gun violence, community members called on each other to uplift the area’s youth, but also challenged those young people to support each other and their neighborhood.“We showed unity,” said Ant Brown, founder of the Abro Foundation, a nonprofit that uses creative arts to address trauma and gun violence in Southwest Philly youth.
“Bridging the gaps is so important, because collaborating with police is so important,” said Brown, 25. “It’s not just us versus the racist cops, it’s us versus the racist system.”
Young people performed raps, songs, and poems addressing racial inequality and police brutality. One performer was Ijanae Thornton, who goes by the stage name Nizzle Official. One verse of the 19-year-old’s song read: “400 years of inequality, now y’all mad that we rioting. If we could flip the switch then y’all would see why it’s so tiring. Wake up to check my phone, another black folk die. White person is off the hook because that white folk lie.”
The group knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time the Minneapolis Police officer fatally knelt on Floyd’s neck, as they read the names of various Black people throughout history who have died at the hands of police violence and racism.
Vigilantes surround Christopher Columbus statue for third day
At Marconi Plaza on Monday evening, a group of around 30 vigilantes stood face-to-face with a dozen counter-protesters in front of the park’s statue of Christopher Columbus, shouting heatedly on the third day of conflict at the park.
A man yelled expletives at the counter-protest group standing silently near the effigy of the Italian explorer, telling them to get out of the neighborhood.
Soon, two dozen police officers moved in, forcibly separating the groups. Officers detained a man who appeared to knock a counter-protester’s cell phone to the ground.
“I’m trying to maintain peaceful protest, I will tolerate nothing less than a peaceful protest,” an officer roared.
The conflict comes amid the third week of local and national protests over George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police — and days after monuments to Columbus were removed in Camden, Wilmington, and other cities.
Historical examinations reveal Columbus to have enslaved and killed thousands of indigenous people during four trips to the Caribbean islands, the modern impetus for calls to end the honorifics and holiday that bear his name.
“Leave Columbus Alone,” one sign on the barricade in front of the statue read.
“Stop trying to erase Western civilization,” said another.
Nearby, a group of small children ran through the park, practicing soccer drills, as members standing with the vigilante group continued to shout.
Philly city court supervisor fired after video surfaces of him tearing down signs, saying he doesn’t care about black lives
Philadelphia Family Court supervisor who was videotaped over the weekend tearing down Black Lives Matter signs from a fence at a South Philadelphia park and saying he doesn’t care about black lives was fired from his job Monday.
Michael Henkel, 61, of South Philadelphia, had worked as a writ-server supervisor. After a video was shared widely on social media of his taking down the signs at Columbus Square park, at 12th and Reed Streets, the city’s First Judicial District terminated his job.
In the video, after a woman is heard yelling out to him: “Black Lives Matter," Henkel responded: “Not to me, they don’t.”
N.J. police departments ordered to identify officers who commit serious violations
New Jersey law enforcement agencies must begin disclosing the names of officers who commit serious disciplinary violations, state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal ordered Monday.
In past years, officers subject to discipline have typically not been publicly identified unless they have been criminally charged. But according to Grewal’s order, every state, county, and local law enforcement agency will now be required to publish an annual list of officers who were fired, demoted, or suspended for more than five days due to a disciplinary violation. The first list is to be be published by the end of this year.
Monday’s order also permits law enforcement agencies to identify officers who have committed violations in the past. According to a statement released by Grewal’s office, the New Jersey state police plans to publish a list of all state troopers who have committed major disciplinary violations over the past twenty years.
“For decades, New Jersey has not disclosed the identities of law enforcement officers who commit serious disciplinary violations,” Grewal said in a statement. “Today, we end the practice of protecting the few to the detriment of the many. Today, we recommit ourselves to building a culture of transparency and accountability in law enforcement.”
Pennsylvania advances reforms to create confidential police disciplinary database
With bipartisan support, Pennsylvania lawmakers advanced two long-awaited police oversight reforms Monday, including a bill that would create a confidential misconduct database for officer background checks.
Democrats hailed the move as a first step after seeing similar legislation languish for months or even years without consideration in the GOP-controlled legislature.
One bill, sponsored by Rep. Harry Readshaw (D., Allegheny), would require all law enforcement agencies in the state to consult a new database with information on disciplinary actions, performance evaluations, and attendance records during a background check.
The legislation would also require an agency to disclose information about any investigations into current or former officers in writing.
The other bill advanced Monday would create new types of training, mandate yearly use-of-force instruction, and require mental-health screenings after officers use deadly force.
The encampment at 22nd Street and the Ben Franklin Parkway began Wednesday after five people without housing reached out to organizers asking for support in advocating for the city to provide low-income housing. By Friday, as word began to spread, the group had grown to more than 50 tents, and by Monday, that number had more than doubled.
“Everybody is coming together to help each other,” said Leonard Flowers, one of the original five residents who started the protest Wednesday. “People from all walks of life are coming to give support, whether they’re wealthy, or can only give one blanket.”
In five days, the unhoused encampment protest at 22nd and Ben Franklin Parkway has grown to about 130 tents. It started with five tents last Wednesday. pic.twitter.com/uGf2ugk0RI
The encampment has named itself La Kay Nou, which is Creole for “Our Home,” said Alex Stewart, co-founder of the Workers Revolutionary Collective. The group has presented a list of demands to the city, which includes: stop clearing encampments, fire cops that mistreat the homeless, build a community of tiny houses and low income housing, and designate certain encampments as “no cop zones.” Stewart said they are in “ongoing negotiations with the city.”
Flowers said sometimes he worries about being forced to leave, but he tries to stay positive.
“I feel like [the city] shouldn’t bother us because we’re not bothering y’all,” he said.
Black Lives Matter banner that ‘displeased’ Trump, Pompeo removed at U.S. embassy in South Korea
A large Black Lives Matter banner draped on the front of the U.S. embassy in Seoul was removed Monday after it was brought to the attention of President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, according to people familiar with the matter.
Pompeo and Trump were both displeased by the banner, the people said. A large, multicolored “pride” banner recognizing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people was also removed on Monday. They were replaced with a banner commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Korean War.
On Saturday, after unfurling the banner, the embassy said it “stands in solidarity with fellow Americans grieving and peacefully protesting to demand positive change.
But on Monday, after the banners were removed, the embassy said that U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris did not intend “to support or encourage donations to any specific organization. To avoid the misperception that American taxpayer dollars were spent to benefit such organizations, he directed that the banner be removed.”
'Not to me, they don’t’: Philly city court supervisor videotaped tearing down Black Lives Matter signs
A video of a supervisor in Philadelphia Family Court tearing down Black Lives Matters signs from a fence at a South Philadelphia park over the weekend has garnered outrage and sadness after the man told an onlooker he doesn’t care about black lives.
After a woman is heard in the video yelling out to him: “Black Lives Matter," Henkel responded: “Not to me, they don’t.”
Marty O’Rourke, a city court spokesperson, confirmed Monday that Henkel is the man in the video and that he is a writ-service supervisor in Philadelphia Family Court. He did not have immediate comment Monday on Henkel’s status with the First Judicial District.
Supreme Court turns away cases on police immunity, which protects officers from lawsuits
The Supreme Court is for now declining to get involved in an ongoing debate by citizens and in Congress over policing, rejecting cases Monday that would have allowed the justices to revisit when police can be held financially responsible for wrongdoing.
With protests over racism and police brutality continuing nationwide, the justices turned away more than half a dozen cases involving the legal doctrine known as qualified immunity, which the high court created more than 50 years ago. It shields officials, including police, from lawsuits for money as a result for things they do in the course of their job.
As a result of qualified immunity, even when a court finds that an official or officer has violated someone’s constitutional rights, they can still be protected from civil lawsuits seeking money. The Supreme Court has said that qualified immunity protects officials as long as their actions don’t violate clearly established law or constitutional rights which they should have known about.
Delco to create criminal justice reform task force
Delaware County will announce Tuesday the creation of a task force on criminal justice reform, the county said Monday.
The task force will include groups to examine the following topics, a statement from the District Attorney’s Office said: 21st century policing, principles for a 21st century prosecutor, legislative change, and the county government’s impact on achieving equality and justice in Delaware County.
The group, chaired by District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, will include “stakeholders from all parts of the criminal justice system.” Officials will announce more details at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
‘I can never get my husband back’: Family speaks after Rayshard Brooks’ death in Atlanta
The family of Rayshard Brooks, the 27-year-old man who was shot and killed by an Atlanta police officer on Friday night after falling asleep in his car, spoke for the first time since his death during and emotional news conference Monday morning.
Tomika Miller, Brooks’ wife, held back tears as she explained that no amount of justice will every be enough to replace the sudden loss of her husband.
“I can never get my husband back. I can never get my best friend,” she said. “I can never tell my daughter, ‘He’s coming to take you skating or swimming lessons.’ So, it’s just going to be a long time before I heal. It’s going to be a long time before this family heals.”
Miller also called on people demonstrating in the wake of Brooks’ death to keep their protests peaceful.
“I just ask that if you could just keep it as a peaceful protest that would be wonderful, because we want to keep his name positive," Miller said.
You can watch the family’s news conference here beginning around the 39 minute mark, via the Washington Post:
Brooks was shot in the back and killed during a confrontation with police in a Wendy’s parking lot Friday night.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said she doesn’t believe the killing was a justified use of force. Garrett Rolfe, the officer who shot and killed Brooks, has been fired from the force. Devin Brosnan, the other officer on the scene who initially responded to the call, was placed on administrative duty. Atlanta Police Commissioner Erika Shields resigned over Brooks’ death.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said Rolfe could face charges.
“[Brooks] did not seem to present any kind of threat to anyone, and so the fact that it would escalate to his death just seems unreasonable,” Howard said on CNN Sunday. “It just seems like this is not the kind of conversation and incident that should have led to someone’s death.”
Philly to hire outside consultant investigate use of force against protesters
Philadelphia officials will hire an outside consultant to probe the city’s response to demonstrations against police brutality, including the police department’s use of force.
City officials said in a statement Monday the consultant has not been selected and a request for proposals is being drafted. There’s not yet a timeline, though the city said preliminary findings and a final report will be public.
Dangerous tactics followed. A police commander seen on videos roughing up demonstrators was charged with aggravated assault. Police were criticized by demonstrators and some politicians for the use of tear gas on crowds, both in West Philly — where the gas billowed through a residential neighborhood — and in Center City, where a crowd on I-676 had no clear way to disperse.
Outlaw declined interview requests by the Inquirer. She said in a statement Monday there are “tactical and operational lessons that we can learn through organized retrospection.” She reiterated she’d witnessed “inappropriate use of force and other conduct that I do not condone — nor will I allow to continue by those who serve the Philadelphia Police Department.”
While the RFP is still in development, the city expects the independent consultant will review police reports and data, body camera footage, news and social media accounts, and other directives and procedures. They’ll also interview witnesses, collect evidence from other law enforcement that assisted PPD, and evaluate how police used force to make recommendations.
In addition, the consultant will assess whether new limitations or “categorical prohibitions” are needed on certain types of force. Four City Council members called on the department to stop using tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets during demonstrations.
The consultant will provide monthly reports to the Inspector General’s Office and the City Solicitor’s Office, both part of the mayor’s administration. City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart announced June 4 her office, led by an outside expert, would review the city and police’s response and resource deployment during the protests.
Vigilantes, some carrying baseball bats and metal poles, ‘defended’ Columbus statue over the weekend
Vigilantes, some carrying baseball bats and metal poles, stood guard Sunday at the Christopher Columbus statue in South Philadelphia for a second day Sunday, saying they were protecting the sculpture amid protests over the police killing of George Floyd.
“If they bring this down, where does it end?” one man shouted. “Next they’ll want to change the American flag.”
Scuffles broke out between the South Philadelphians and counterprotesters who arrived at Marconi Plaza on Sunday, forcing police to intervene, and officers remained at the scene as the crowd at one point grew to 100.
“We are aware of the groups of armed individuals ‘protecting’ the Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza,” Mayor Jim Kenney tweeted early Sunday. “All vigilantism is inappropriate, and these individuals only bring more danger to themselves and the city.”
Kenney said the city was investigating an apparent assault that was caught on video as well as restrictions placed on journalists.
A Black Lives Matter protester is in the spotlight after a Reuters photo captured him carrying an injured white man to safety during a tense protest in London on Saturday.
During the largely peaceful protest, demonstrators were reportedly targeted by far-right activists, leading to more than 100 arrests after violence broke out. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson denounced the attack as “racist thuggery.”
Patrick Hutchinson, the man captured in the photo, told CNN he saw the injured white man and decided to carry him to safety so violence would not define the protest. The man Hutchinson was carrying has not yet been identified.
“I was concerned for this live I really feel that if we hadn’t intervened when we did, I genuinely think he may have died,” Hutchinson told Sky News.
“I didn’t do it for him per se. Obviously I didn’t want to see him perish or die but I really did it for the young men and women of Black Lives Matter protesting,” Hutchinson added. “I didn’t want their names tarnished with such an incident, because we know what the narrative would be had something happened to him.”
Black Lives Matter protests and antiracism marches have sprung up across Europe following the death of George Floyd. According to the New York Times, the European protesters have denounced the bigotry within their own countries and demanded authorities address it.