With a towering unicorn puppet, body bags, and chants, Philadelphians took to the streets Tuesday to call for reducing the police department’s budget in favor of funding the arts and affordable housing, and to rally for better conditions for essential workers of color.
The demonstrations marked the 18th-straight day of protests in the city since the death of George Floyd, whose death after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes has sparked widespread protests against racial injustice.
Around 100 protesters at the Philadelphia Art Museum gathered to call for taking money from the city’s police budget and using it to support the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, which was eliminated in Mayor Jim Kenney’s revised 2021 budget proposal.
“Art is essential,” the crowd chanted.
The fund supports organizations in virtually every neighborhood of the city — most of them modest and community-focused. Led by a unicorn puppet and the West Powelton Drummers, the group then marched from the Art Museum to City Hall.
In between performances by artists supported by community arts funding, Michelle Currica, who worked for the fund for years, spoke about its importance.
“The cultural fund is a longstanding commitment to the arts, and it’s for the people, by the people, and delivered through the power of the people,” she said.
The calls to reduce police funding where echoed at City Hall, where about 50 people gathered around the Octavius Catto statue, protesting increases to police amid cuts to housing, education, and other community needs.
Stuffed black garbage bags representing corpses were spread on the ground to symbolize lives lost due to lack of housing, improper care in nursing homes, and COVID-19.
Jamaal Henderson of Act Up Philadelphia said other social issues — including the incarceration of black and brown people, homelessness and lack of resources for sanitation workers — could be addressed by reducing the police budget.
“[Defunding the police] means you can be a black man, actually be a citizen, and not have to worry whether or not your life is at risk,” Henderson said.
Meanwhile, about 30 Local 32BJ SEIU commercial office cleaners, security officers, and airport workers gathered outside One Liberty Place to commemorate Justice for Janitors Day and highlight the plight of essential workers of color.
The union workers stood socially distanced on Market Street holding Black Lives Matter posters to call attention to the coronavirus pandemics’ disproportionate effects on essential workers of color.
“Black and brown bodies are the ones who are cleaning these buildings every single day. Today, especially with the racial injustice that is happening in this country, we are all in this together,” said SEIU 32BJ Mid-Atlantic District Director Daisy Cruz.