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Philly protesters demand justice in police killings of Black people

“Shake your head all you want Karen, we’re going to be marching every day until justice is served,” one protester said.

Kendall Stephens speaks during a protest against police violence and racism at the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps on Saturday.
Kendall Stephens speaks during a protest against police violence and racism at the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps on Saturday.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

For nearly a year, since Philadelphians first took to the streets on May 30 to demand justice for the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, protests demanding reform and accountability for the killings of Black people by police have been held in this city and across the nation.

And they have kept happening — the police killings and the protests.

On Saturday afternoon, a few dozen protesters gathered at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and promised to continue their fight for police reform and accountability before merging with another protest group later in the day, eventually growing to a crowd of about 200. Two protesters held a large white banner that read: “KOPS AND KLAN GO HAND IN HAND.” Several dozen officers and a half dozen police vehicles were stationed nearby in Eakins Oval.

Through a megaphone, Kendall Stephens called for others at the Art Museum to stand in solidarity against police for “assassinating Black and brown lives.”

“I’m so tired of police viewing Black and brown people as threats they can brutalize,” she said. “We’re not getting protected. We’re getting hunted like animals. … You get pulled over, you get killed.”

The protest came as the city prepares for potential unrest after the verdict in Chauvin’s trial. Closing arguments are set to begin Monday and more than 1,000 Pennsylvania National Guard troops have been activated for deployment in Philadelphia, at the request of the city. Philadelphia police are canceling vacations and increasing staffing in preparation for the verdict and the Office of Emergency Management will be fully staffed for weeks. On Saturday, police set up metal barricades along Aramingo Avenue and a contingent of officers and metal barricades was also placed along the 52nd Street corridor, both of which were sites of previous unrest.

In an open letter to Philadelphians on Friday, Mayor Jim Kenney called for “active peace.”

“So when the verdict comes, no matter the outcome, let us resolve to demonstrate peacefully, to voice the pain and anguish loud and clear but without destruction, and let us stay united working to ensure that Black lives matter today — and every day,” he wrote.

At the Art Museum on Saturday, Stephens said: “We better get the right verdict.”

“Because these murderers who are standing behind a shield … they’ve been protected for far too long,” she said.

Another protester who spoke at the Art Museum said that if the police killing of Daunte Wright outside Minneapolis last Sunday isn’t enough for white people to denounce white supremacy, they are part of the problem.

After chanting the names of men and women killed by the police, the group marched down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and through Center City, flanked by police who stopped traffic.

The protesters chanted “No justice, no peace. No racist police,” encouraging onlookers — some of whom raised fists in support — to join them.

“Shake your head all you want, Karen, we’re going to be marching every day until justice is served,” one protester with a microphone told a woman on the Parkway.

They made their way to City Hall, where another rally organized by the Socialist Alternative party began around 3 p.m. Dozens of people were gathered there with Socialist Alternative posters and signs reading “Justice for Daunte Wright” and “Justice for Adam Toledo.”

Demonstrators from the later rally marched toward 400 N. Broad St., the future home of the city’s Police Department. There, protesters continued to call for police officers to be held accountable for shootings, and mentioned James Alexander, a Philadelphia man killed earlier this month.

Alexander, 24, was fatally shot during a traffic stop in Logan on April 7. Officers incorrectly believed there was a warrant out for Alexander’s arrest and asked him to exit the car. Police allege Alexander pulled a gun and shot at them and officers returned fire, killing him. Alexander’s family has disputed the Police Department’s version of the shooting.

Gina Johnson, who said she knows Alexander’s family and cried with them at a recent vigil, said the protests happening now are part of a lineage of civil rights actions that started with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

“I’ve been out here so many times,” she said. “My 8-year-old son is afraid of the cops, because he keeps seeing his mother going out to protests constantly and he asks me why, and I’m not going to lie to him. The same people that are supposed to protect us will also kill you.”

A heavy police presence was in the area, including a contingent of bike cops north of City Hall and several dozen officers who were stationed outside the Municipal Services Building.

Wright’s death has sparked protests all week in Minnesota and around the country, including in Philadelphia on Tuesday, when several hundred people marched through Center City demanding justice. Brooklyn Center Police Officer Kim Potter fatally shot Wright, 20, during a traffic stop. The Brooklyn Center police chief, who has since resigned, said Potter intended to shoot Wright with her Taser, but mistakenly pulled her gun instead; Potter has been charged with second-degree manslaughter.

The police killing was one of several in recent weeks that made headlines.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Chicago on Friday night after police body-cam footage was released this week of Officer Eric Stillman shooting 13-year-old Adam Toledo to death after a foot chase on March 29. Police allege Toledo had a gun, which he tossed just before the shooting, but footage shows his hands were up and empty when he turned to face Stillman, who shot him once in the chest.

And on April 1, the family of Walter Wallace Jr. announced they filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the two Philadelphia police officers who killed Wallace in West Philly on Oct. 26. The killing sparked days of protests in Philadelphia and was the last time National Guard troops were deployed in the city.