Philadelphia officers detained more than two dozen protesters staging a sit-in at the Municipal Services Building on Tuesday, calling for the city to defund the Police Department, as hundreds marched on Broad Street in support of the same cause.
As the protesters sought to occupy the lobby of the Municipal Services Building, demanding to speak with Mayor Jim Kenney or Managing Director Brian Abernathy before the city’s budget is finalized this week, police detained multiple people, including Inquirer reporter Samantha Melamed.
When asked about the journalist’s detainment during a virtual City Council meeting, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said she didn’t know all of the details. The commissioner has said the department’s policy is to not arrest working journalists covering demonstrations.
“I am aware, and I am also aware that she was immediately released, and the additional details I am looking forward to hearing from those who were actually there on the ground,” Outlaw said.
Kenney later tweeted that he was “extremely disturbed by the video of a reporter being detained while doing her job and covering one of today’s protests — and also very concerned that it may violate the law and @PhillyPolice policy. It will be fully investigated and addressed.”
A Police Department spokesperson said Internal Affairs is investigating the “entire incident,” including Melamed’s detainment.
Twenty-seven people were arrested for failure to disperse and transported to the First Police District in South Philadelphia, police said. Police gave three quick and quiet warnings to disperse, organizers said, but not everyone heard them.
The protesters’ sit-in was a last-ditch effort after weeks of protests calling to defund Philadelphia police achieved just a 4.3% reduction in the department’s proposed 2021 budget — even as services will be slashed and 450 city workers laid off to close a $749 million budget shortfall.
One of the sit-in organizers, Steph Drain, 22, said spending more than 15% of the city’s budget on policing supports a “militarized state.” Though the budget is set for final passage at City Council on Thursday, Drain said he hopes that city leaders will recognize the need to do more.
For him, he said, this is an intergenerational fight, beginning when his father, as a 12-year-old in West Philadelphia, “was almost beaten to death by the police” while Frank Rizzo was leading the department. To Drain’s mind, the city has not advanced beyond the Rizzo-era legacy of police brutality.
“Philadelphia does not have a great history of police officers being bastions of hope. These are paramilitary,” he said.
The protesters were not seeking a specific budget reduction, Drain said.
“But we want it to be more than a reallocation of resources,” he said, citing a maneuver in which $14 million in funding devoted to police service is set to be retained but shuffled to a different department. “We want them to put that funding into homeless and housing services, parks and recreation.”
Reclaim Philadelphia organizer A’Brianna Morgan, 26, who was arrested at the Municipal Services Building, said she came to protest because she found city leaders’ claims of supporting Black Lives Matter hollow.
“It’s hard for me to believe they had a change of heart so soon after they used tear gas canisters and rubber bullets against myself and other protesters on 676,” Morgan said.
Also on Tuesday, hundreds of protesters gathered near the boarded-up South Philadelphia statue of Christopher Columbus, denouncing “white supremacist vigilantes” and the Police Department’s handling of a group of people — some with weapons — who stood near the statue for days, saying they were guarding it from protesters.
Another confrontation near the Marconi Plaza statue ensued Tuesday evening, when protesters returning from the march — which was organized by a handful of leftist groups — encountered a group of men wielding bats and hammers. A brawl broke out, and at least two men were detained.
Earlier, at Broad and Snyder, 1st District state Senate nominee Nikil Saval stood with the protesters condemning those who protected the statue, calling Columbus “a genocidal maniac.”
In addition to speaking out against the “vigilantes,” protesters in South Philadelphia renewed calls to “defund the police” and asked city officials to reduce law enforcement funding and instead bolster programs supporting schools, housing, and jobs.
The demonstrators headed north toward the other protesting group at the Municipal Services Building, clapping and chanting, “No good cops in a racist system.”
Once the group arrived at the heavily policed site, Rick Krajewski, the Democratic nominee for a West Philadelphia state House seat, asked protesters to cheer for those who were arrested and echoed their call to reduce police funding. “We need to actually defund the police,” he said, “and invest in communities, because that’s what safety is.”
The march came in the wake of observers saying police at Marconi Plaza earlier this month stood by or were absent as a group milling around the statue attacked people..
The mayor and police commissioner have condemned “vigilantism” since a group of men with baseball bats and shovels roamed the streets of Fishtown on June 1, claiming they were protecting the neighborhood from looters.
Last week, city officials boarded up the Columbus statue as they decide what to do with it. Uproar over the statue arose as the country is grappling with how to deal with monuments to controversial historical figures.
While those defending the statue saw it as a beacon of Italian American heritage, which is particularly strong in South Philadelphia, those advocating for its removal say it’s a painful reminder of the atrocities committed against indigenous people at Columbus’ direction hundreds of years ago.