When Ian John joined a protest march through the streets of Philadelphia on June 1, he thought he was ready for anything.
“But seeing some officers kneel with protesters in front of a gentleman’s club was something I definitely didn’t see coming,” he said.
At least two-to-three dozen Philadelphia police officers were gathered in the parking lot of Delilah’s gentlemen’s club on Spring Garden Street in Old City that day, along with marked and unmarked police vehicles, an armored truck, and what appeared to be National Guard vehicles, said John, 25, of West Philly.
As the protesters approached police and took a knee against the systemic oppression of Black people in the United States, five to seven of the officers on site knelt down to them, John said.
“I appreciated the solidarity and understood that some officers empathized with the movement. However, at the end of the day, we were there to protest the system that they are paid to protect, which made us adversaries,” John said. “But it was kind of like the ’Christmas truce’ or the ’Delilah’s truce,’ if you will.”
Philadelphia police have been seen gathering en masse at the strip club parking lot several times since protests against racial injustice and the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police began in Philadelphia on May 30.
One curious reader, Andrew Phillips, asked The Inquirer asking us to get to the bottom of the issue.
Phillips wrote in to our Curious Philly portal, where readers ask questions and reporters hunt down the answer.
“I noticed during the BLM activism in June and again after Kenosha that police use the parking lot of Delilah’s as a muster point or some kind of command center. While it makes for a funny photo (100s of cops under a sign for a strip club), what are the police doing there?” he asked.
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He wasn’t the only one wondering. Questions and theories have swirled on social media as to why cops are gathering in Delilah’s parking lot (“Can anyone tell my why half the Philly Police appear to be having daily cookouts in the Delilah’s parking lot off the side of I-95?” one Twitter user asked. “LMAO!! THE COPS HAVE BOGARDED DELILAH’S STRIP CLUB, AS A HUB!” wrote another).
According to Philadelphia police spokesman Sgt. Eric Gripp, the department has been using the parking lot as a tactical staging area during “large-scale events.”
“We often utilize both public and private property in order to provide a staging area in which to move our officers in and out of the city,” he said. “It was chosen because it was closed due to COVID. Delilah’s wasn’t operating so we knew we wouldn’t be disrupting any business.”
Given the space is private property, police did seek permission to use the lot from the owners of Delilah’s and the owners of the strip mall property where the club is located, Gripp said.
Several calls and messages to Delilah’s for comment were not returned. A working number for Kentisbury Properties, which is listed as the owner of the land on city property tax records, could not be found.
What is apparent is that nobody is letting police in to use their bathrooms. Gripp confirmed that porta potties photographed at the site were brought in for use by police officers.
While Gripp declined to detail why Delilah’s is a “tactically sound” staging area for deployment, the lot is near I-95, close to the major thoroughfare of Delaware Avenue/Columbus Boulevard, and is less than half a mile from the city’s Office of Emergency Management.
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The fact that the ideal staging lot just happened to be at a strip club was not a major public relations issue for police, Gripp said.
“Optics are always important, but at the same time, it wasn’t a real concern,” he said.
Whether the optics are a concern for Delilah’s remains to be seen.
For John, who has participated in the Philadelphia protests since they began, the entire scene remains surreal.
“I felt like I was in a Coen brothers film for a minute,” he said.