Protesters march in Center City amid election demonstrations and release of bodycam footage of Walter Wallace Jr.'s killing by police
The afternoon saw hundreds peacefully gathering in Center City, moving from a “Count Every Vote” rally on Independence Mall to City Hall.
As Wednesday brought both an anxious wait for election ballots to be counted and the release of body-camera footage from the police killing of Walter Wallace Jr., about 1,000 people marched through Philadelphia in a double protest.
It was emblematic of the turmoil facing the city and nation during an unprecedented time of pandemic and political and social unrest. For many on the streets Wednesday, Wallace’s death and the unsettled election were linked, both products of what they called a broken system.
“We believe the same systems trying to stop every vote from being counted are the same systems that murdered Walter,” said Bryan Mercer, executive director of Movement Alliance Project.
The “Count Every Vote” protesters, organized by various progressive political groups, were responding to President Donald Trump’s efforts to stop vote-counting, including a claim in a 2 a.m. speech that counting all legally cast ballots was “a fraud on the American public.” Trump vowed to challenge Pennsylvania’s election results in court on multiple fronts — even as his campaign prematurely declared victory in the state Wednesday and as the commonwealth continued its painstaking process of tallying the votes.
“We just want to make sure people aren’t disenfranchised,” said Ian Manion, 19, who came to City Hall on Wednesday night with two other Temple University students.
After the body-worn camera footage of Wallace’s killing was released by city officials following an early evening news conference, the protests continued. Organizers acknowledged the release of the video, but, said Krystal Strong of the Black Philly Radical Collective and Black Lives Matter Philly: “There is no videotape evidence that will ever allow us to say that their life didn’t matter.”
“Let us be clear: Watch the film, circulate the film if you need to,” Strong told the crowd on Market Street at Independence Mall. “But the fact remains that Walter Wallace should still be here ... and we will continue to fight until the police officers who killed him are accountable, until they are fired, until they are jailed, and until this entire system is uprooted.”
At the city’s news briefing, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw identified the two officers who shot Wallace as Thomas Munz Jr., 26, and Sean Matarazzo, 25. Kenney described the bodycam footage as “graphic,” “violent,” and “traumatic.”
Carrying both “Count Every Vote” and “Black Lives Matter” signs, protesters marched from City Hall to Independence Mall and then to Mayor Jim Kenney’s home in Old City, chanting the names of Black people whom police have killed. Organizers called on the city to reallocate funding to social services and community support rather than spending more on police reforms.
“We will come to the mayor’s house for as long as it takes to get justice. You will be uncomfortable. You will hear our voices,” Gabe Bryant of Philly Black Radical Collective said once the crowd had reached Kenney’s residence. “We will be here demanding justice until Sean Matarazzo and Thomas Munz are seen in ... handcuffs.”
Though police and National Guard officers had a heavy presence around City Hall, there were no clashes between law enforcement and protesters. The night’s march began winding down by 8 p.m., as protesters gathered in a circle and called Black marchers into the middle.
Together, they chanted: “We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
The afternoon had already attracted hundreds of demonstrators to Center City, for an earlier “Count Every Vote” rally organized by Indivisible Philadelphia on Independence Mall. Similar rallies were held in Delaware and Montgomery Counties as part of a nationwide campaign of marches known as Protect the Results.
“There are people, too many people, people in power, who do not want to count our votes,” said Sheridan Earle of Montco Activists United at the Norristown rally, referring to Trump and criticizing the Republican-controlled legislature for refusing to change the law to allow county elections officials to pre-canvass mail ballots before Election Day.
Reps. Dwight Evans and Brendan Boyle, both Philadelphia Democrats, addressed Philadelphia’s afternoon crowd along with city councilmembers, with Boyle slamming Trump’s early-morning comments.
“Let me be absolutely clear,” Boyle said. “We are not gonna let him or anyone else steal this election. Count every vote.”
Votes in Pennsylvania are taking longer than usual to be counted because it was the state’s first year with mass mail voting. Counties were not permitted to begin counting those ballots — more than 2.5 million — until Election Day, and they are accepting ballots through Friday, as long as they were postmarked by Tuesday. It was known before Election Day that it would take multiple days to count Pennsylvania’s votes.
» READ MORE: Pennsylvania’s unprecedented pandemic election went ‘remarkably smoothly.’ Now all that’s left is counting votes.
“We’re here to honor the election. We are here to honor counting every single legally filed vote,” said Vicki Miller of Indivisible Philadelphia, addressing the Independence Mall crowd. “It’s going to take a little patience. It’s going to take a little time. We knew that before the election, didn’t we? We knew that this vote was not going to come out instantaneously.”
The state Supreme Court’s decision to allow ballots to be accepted after Tuesday remains the subject of a legal challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court by Pennsylvania Republicans, who do not want votes that were mailed by Election Day but arrive between Wednesday and Friday to be counted.
In a tweet Wednesday afternoon that was hidden by Twitter because it was misleading, Trump tried to cast the counting of legitimate ballots in Pennsylvania as a conspiracy to make his lead “disappear.”
Mercer said Wednesday afternoon that progressive groups in Philadelphia have been preparing for this scenario — an uncertain result that could hinge on Pennsylvania — for weeks.
“This isn’t the time to just stay in our seats,” he said. “This is the time to show every leader and person responsible that we’re gonna watch this process, and we’re gonna demand a full process, and demand every vote is counted.”
Staff writers Oona Goodin-Smith, Andrew Seidman, and Jeremy Roebuck and videographer Kristen Balderas contributed to this article.