A physical confrontation ensued in South Philadelphia Tuesday evening, when about 50 protesters who walked south from an earlier Center City protest came to Marconi Plaza, where they were engaged by more than 100 men who had gathered wielding baseball bats and hammers.
The men dropped the bats when protesters arrived and exchanged harsh words. A brawl ensued as the parties shoved each other, and an Instagram video showed one man punching a protester in the face.
Mel D. Cole, a Black hip-hop photographer who has worked with names like Drake, Trey Songz, and the Roots, was punched in the jaw by a man who repeatedly yelled “get outta here, boy.”
In an interview Tuesday night, Cole said the man walked away after punching him. He said he then walked around for about 10 minutes to find a police officer to make a report to — and that a number of officers “wouldn’t acknowledge” him. Once he found an officer who listened to his description of what happened, Cole said he went to a police precinct, where he was interviewed and filed a formal report. Officers there gave him conflicting information about whether or not the man was arrested, Cole said.
Philadelphia police didn’t respond Tuesday night to a request for information on arrests made at the Plaza. Cole said while the man punched him with a closed fist, he didn’t seek medical attention.
“It’s more mental bruising than anything,” he said. “That was the first time I was called ‘boy’ in my entire life.”
At least two men at the plaza were detained, one from each side.
One of the individuals police detained was from the group gathered on the west side of Broad Street wielding baseball bats; he was taken away after attempting to breach the police line. Later, police detained at least one Black male who was standing on the side with protesters chanting Black Lives Matter.
When a reporter attempted to take a video of police putting him in a police van, officers with bikes stopped her from moving closer. When asked why dozens of men from the side that had been wielding bats were allowed to get close to the police van and taunt the man being arrested, an officer said “because they were on that side.”
The altercation followed a march from Broad and Snyder Streets to the Municipal Services Building, where 26 protesters who had been organizing a sit-in were detained. Some of the protesters then made their way back to Marconi Plaza, where multiple confrontations have occurred this month among men who have claimed they were protecting the Christopher Columbus statue, protesters, and police.
On Tuesday evening, protesters chanting “Black Lives Matter” were told to disperse by police shortly after 7:15 p.m., while a few dozen men chanting “USA” remained in the middle of Broad Street.
The crowd mostly dispersed by 7:30 p.m., and by 8 p.m., Marconi Plaza was largely empty, occupied by some police officers and men holding baseball bats.
Earlier, the hundreds of protesters had 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 armed with weapons — who stood near the statue for days, claiming they were guarding it from protesters.
In addition to speaking out against the “vigilantes,” protesters in South Philadelphia had renewed calls to “defund the police” and asked city officials to reduce law enforcement funding and instead bolster cash flow to programs supporting schools, housing, and jobs.
Observers have said police at Marconi Plaza stood by or were absent earlier this month as the group milling around the statue physically attacked people by punching, kicking, burning, and sexually assaulting them. 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.
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.
Last week, city officials boarded up the Columbus statue as they decide what to do with it.