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Fatima Mughal had attended numerous protests, including some that shut down major roads.

But when the 38-year-old New Jersey teacher stepped onto Philadelphia’s I-676 on June 1, 2020, she had no idea that the next 20 minutes would change her life, and her view of policing, mutual aid, and local government.

Mughal was one of hundreds of protesters who marched onto the highway on the third day of Philadelphia’s racial justice protests after George Floyd’s murder. But then city and state police — some in tanks — surrounded them, spraying chemicals and firing rubber bullets and tear gas as they tried to flee.

Mughal and dozens of others ran up the highway embankment but were barricaded in by a fence. Those who could dragged themselves up and pulled others over the fence, but most were trapped, unable to see or breathe as police continued firing tear gas. People described it as “nightmarish” and “pandemonium.” “I thought I was going to die,” a protester said at the time.

City officials originally defended the tactics and said protesters provoked officers by throwing projectiles. But local and national reporting proved that untrue, and about a month later, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw condemned the tactics. The deputy police commissioner was demoted, and a city-wide tear gas moratorium was instituted. In October, City Council introduced a bill that would permanently ban the use of tear gas and rubber bullets.

The Inquirer spoke to eight people who were on I-676 about how that day has affected their lives. In the year since, many have been energized and propelled further into activism. Some described themselves as “police reformists” prior to June 1 but now believe in full abolition. One couple planned to start a family but put that on hold to prioritize community organizing.

But others, like two young people who made the decision to take the group onto the highway, struggled, and still do, with guilt and trauma. One 25-year-old marched every day for two months, then had to take a leave of absence from his university to recover. Many said they are still waiting for accountability from the city.

Tyler Shaide, 25, gym trainer

As thousands marched from Police Headquarters toward the Art Museum, Shaide was toward the front. Skateboard in hand, Shaide said: “What if we took the highway?” In seconds, the decision was made. Protesters lifted up the fence that surrounded the highway. Shaide, who was the first to step onto the interstate, was shot in the back and leg by two rubber bullets.

“I’m on top of the median watching everybody, thinking, ‘We did it, we did it, we’re taking over the highway.... Then the tear gas just came. And the rubber bullets.”

“I tear up when I think about it. I haven’t been back [to the site] other than once, to go back and see if I could find my wallet. It just makes me think of the responsibility that I have. I feel like I got people hurt.”

“I still carry that with me, that burden. I feel at fault for people being hurt, and I never, ever wanted people hurt.”

Xavier Wolf, 25, film student

Wolf was the second person to step onto the highway, alongside Shaide. He was shot in the back five times by rubber bullets, he said, and the tear gas inhalation made him pass out before friends carried him to safety. He took a leave of absence from college to work through the trauma and guilt of 2020, much of which started with June 1.

“That feeling that day, I wouldn’t wish that upon my worst enemy. … It helped me and it also made me worse. It helped me push to make a change to … show that it’s more than just a march, the things we’re fighting for.”

“It’s not easily forgotten. The PTSD, the night terrors, the not being able to trust a police officer. But Philly did unite after that. We did come together to make changes, but Philly still needs a lot of things to change.”

Fatima Mughal, 38, New Jersey teacher

Mughal and her sister were near the front of the group when the chaos broke out. Mughal was trapped in the crowd on the fence, and the rest was a blur. She watched aerial video footage the next day and saw herself pushed down a portion of the hill by a police officer.

“I’ve been to protests before, I’ve been to protests where we take the road before. I never would have imagined that literally we would be attacked by military-grade equipment, that we would be facing national guardsmen against American citizens.”

“After that, it became 100% clear, the extent to which our police are militarized. ... After that, it was 100% [police] abolition. Full abolition, without question.”

“At the same time, in the face of the worst violence I’ve ever experienced, I also saw the most solidarity. I saw strangers helping each other get to safety, working together to give medical aid using whatever we had, and protecting each other. It made me understand that we have to depend on each other to survive, that we have to take care of each other because we’re all we have.”

Kelsey Romano, 34, Philadelphia teacher; Chris Romano, 40, printer

The Romanos were trapped against the fence. Kelsey was shot in the back with a rubber bullet, and collapsed and started vomiting from the gas. An officer then zip-tied her hands, and dragged her down the hill.

“This changed both of our lives, I think forever.”

» READ MORE: Philly BLM activists say police brutalized them, while a white Capitol mob was ‘met with grace’

“We’d been activists, but we hadn’t necessarily been a part of an organization, or been leaders in an organization. As soon as this happened, we said we need to step it up and do more. Now, we’re involved in many organizations throughout Philly doing things both around defunding the police and reimagining public safety, and supporting abolition of the prison-industrial complex.” — Kelsey

“It opened our eyes — that’s what June 1 did to us. Our eyes might have been open, but it pretty much ripped off our eyelids and said you’re no longer going to be able to close your eyes, you’re now going to take in all this information, reach other people, and open their eyes to it, too.”

“Even before this happened, we were thinking about starting a family. And it kind of delayed it. Instead, we want to do as much as we can in the city to help out everyone else.” — Chris

Kara Khan, 32, artist

Khan was on the highway photographing the protest for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. She was toward the front, and a police officer pepper-sprayed her in the face after she identified herself as press, then she was trapped in the crowd against the fence.

“It just changes the way you look at the city, that whole situation. … When you see your city on fire, it’s hard not to see it on fire all the time. And when you’ve seen the military occupy your city, it’s hard not to remember that and know that that could just happen at any moment.”

Anand Ghorpadey, 21, Temple grad; and Jim Zaccario, 22, Temple student

Roommates Ghorpadey and Zaccario helped push people over the fence to safety. After being unable to see or breathe from the gas, they walked down the hill and were arrested.

“Before that time, when you’re a college kid and you’re in the middle of this crazy moment in history it’s hard to figure out what your place is in the moment. But it helped me realize that my place is not necessarily as a vocal leader. It was a pivotal moment for me to realize that my role is to protect the people around me, and to protect the Black people around me specifically.” — Ghorpadey

“I don’t think really anyone could really process how significant the response was until afterward, when I saw videos and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I was in there.’

» READ MORE: After a summer of record protests, Philadelphia’s Black Lives Matter organizers are transitioning into a new season of activism

“As the physical reminders went away, you just came to terms with the emotional and mental aspects of it. ... It’s just made me more focused. It’s just justified my activism. ... It’s really different going down the street and being expected to trust [the city and police]. But it’s weird driving down 676. It’s just another day now when I go by it. It’s just another hill on the highway.” — Zaccario