Update: Philadelphia announces plans to remove Columbus statue after repeated violence at Marconi Plaza

A South Philadelphia man was arrested for an alleged assault Tuesday night in South Philadelphia, during the latest in a series of tense gatherings in which armed men convened saying they intended to defend their communities from protesters and looters.

John Mooney, 58, was charged with ethnic intimidation, simple assault, reckless endangerment and harassment for allegedly attacking Mel D. Cole, a Black hip-hop photographer who was part of a protest calling to defund the Philadelphia Police. The incident occurred at Marconi Plaza, the locus of recent unrest as residents stood guard, some bearing bats and hammer, to warn against vandalism or removal of a statue of Christopher Columbus that looks over South Broad Street.

In a statement announcing the arrest, District Attorney Larry Krasner criticized the police for not doing more.

“These incidents continue to raise serious questions about policing and unequal application of the law in the city of Philadelphia,” Krasner said in the statement.

He added: “During widely documented altercations in the Fishtown neighborhood and at Marconi Plaza in South Philly, antiracism protesters and journalists have been verbally and physically assaulted, in direct view of law enforcement officers who have — by the numbers — made far more arrests of protesters and journalists than they have of these bat-wielding, assaultive, and threatening individuals. It is no wonder, then, that Americans here and across the country have been marching nonstop since late May, following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police, to demand equal accountability and equal treatment under the law.”

Cole posted a video showing a punch, which he said landed on his jaw, thrown by a man who repeatedly yelled “get outta here, boy.”

Police immediately arrested Mooney. However, Cole, recovering from the punch, was initially unsure whether an arrest had been made. He told an Inquirer reporter on Tuesday night that he spent 10 minutes trying unsuccessfully to get a police officer to take a report of the incident, but later made a report at a nearby police district.

In a statement Wednesday, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said that, if that’s the case, it would “be highly reasonable and understandable for the victim to feel under-served by the officers to whom he attempted to make the report.”

Outlaw said she would work to prevent such incidents going forward: “We are committed to rendering service with fairness, impartiality and objectivity; and certainly understand the justifiable feelings of alienation and frustration that arise from even the appearance of partiality and preferential treatment.”

Mooney, who was previously convicted of assault and harassment in 2000, is one of at least three who have been charged with assault at Marconi Plaza. Louis Paolino, 51, of South Philadelphia and T.J. Cahill, 51, of Northeast Philadelphia were both arrested June 16 on charges including harassment and simple assault.

Deana Gamble, a spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney, said in a statement that the mayor’s decision announced Wednesday that the city will seek to remove the Columbus statue was intended as a first step toward healing. She added, “The mayor respects the liberties of people with opposing viewpoints to assemble and exercise their first amendment rights. He does not condone vigilantism in any form and takes any act of assault very seriously. He expects police officers to treat all protesters the same and enforce the law fairly.

“That said, if anyone feels that they have been treated unfairly and wish to file a formal complaint, they are encouraged to either find a supervisor on the scene, visit any police station in person, call internal affairs division, or file the complaint online.”

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