Quishanna Lee walked down a line of dozens of her police colleagues, asking them if they would kneel with her as a gesture of peace to those protesting police brutality. Most of them declined.
But six did not. The officers joined Lee, who is black, and knelt with her in the middle of Frankford Avenue Tuesday evening as hundreds of protesters around them cheered. Romel Clark, a black 22-year-old from Northeast Philly who was among the demonstrators, shook each of the officers’ hands and thanked them.
“When you’re kneeling, you’re vulnerable. You’re showing me I’m not a threat,” Clark said. “We don’t want revenge. We want equality.”
The moment of peace — in the middle of a march around the neighborhood that swelled to hundreds of people — came 24 hours after the Fishtown section of Philadelphia made national headlines for a different reason.
On Monday night, about 100 men with baseball bats, shovels, and hammers stood guard at the police station and roamed the streets hours after the citywide curfew. The group said they were protecting their neighborhood from looting, as protests and riots have gripped the nation since George Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
So Tuesday afternoon, after videos of the group with bats made the rounds on social media, protesters showed up at the same police station and sat in the street, wielding signs that read “Black Lives Matter.” Some residents stood on the other side of a line of police, quietly saying, “All lives matter.” Save for a few dustups and insults hurled, there were few confrontations between the groups.
Mariah Coleman, who’s from North Philly and stood with a sign that read “Hands up, don’t shoot,” brought water bottles and snacks to share with fellow protesters. She said she was “devastated” to see not only that a group of residents would walk the street with weapons, but that photos circulated of police high-fiving and taking photos with them.
“When black people are on the news, they are labeled as thugs. I saw a lot of thugs out here last night,” she said. “All I see right now are my people walking around with signs, hoping.”
The crowd Tuesday marched down Girard Avenue while some drove by and honked in support. Some neighbors stood on their porches with fists in the air in solidarity; others cheered out their windows.
Taylor McFadden, a 20-year-old black protester who joined friends in Fishtown on Tuesday, said a handful of officers kneeling won’t mend the relationship between police and communities of color. “Change will,” she said.
But it was something.
“We need to know they hear us,” McFadden said. “The divide is bigger when they stand.”