JOE MOSER and Eric Pawlicki have one of the more unusual DJ gigs in the world: They were hired to drown out the preachings of the Black Israelites at 16th and Chestnut streets.
For more than 20 years, the Upper Darby-based Israelite School of Universal and Practical Knowledge has been protesting on the streets of Philadelphia.
Loudly. And, to many people's ears, offensively.
Now the First Amendment rights of the group popularly known as the Black Israelites are being challenged in a unique way since the demonstrations have moved from outside the Gallery at Market East to outside the Shops at Liberty Place, at 16th and Chestnut.
Just about every Friday, along with the group's rants, you'll hear the equally loud beats of a disc jockey using the name DJ Liberty Place.
The man behind the turntables - either Moser, 32, or Pawlicki, 23 - plays classics including "Black or White" by Michael Jackson and "Hit the Road, Jack" by Ray Charles. According to Moser, those are the two most-requested songs by passers-by wishing to send a message to the Black Israelites.
"They say white people are evil, women are evil, Jesus is evil," Moser said of the Black Israelites after the competing noise had died down recently. "Anything that is not their beliefs is evil."
The Moorestown-based entertainment company that employs Moser and Pawlicki, DJ's Available, was hired by the Shops at Liberty Place to muffle the chants.
"I just hope by playing music that is fun and upbeat, we are uplifting people's spirits even though other more negative things are being shouted at them," Moser said.
Moser and Pawlicki said they just want to do the best for customers walking in and out of the shopping mall.
"They want their customers to have a pleasant shopping experience without being shouted at as they are walking in and out of the shops," Moser said. "I give them a lot of kudos for taking a stand instead of ignoring it and pretending it's not there."
"They wish death on people, they say they hope everyone dies on their way home and gets cancer, " Pawlicki said of the Black Israelites. "It is hard to even talk about some of the stuff that they say.
"I am there to drown them out, and turn a negative into a positive."
A customer's letter
On Fridays, the nearly 15,000 people who pass through the shopping mall's 16th Street entrance are subjected to the rantings of six to 10 African-Americans dressed in black robes ridiculing white people, women, homosexuals and anyone else who does not embrace the Black Israelites' radical black-separatist ideology.
And customers are angry.
"My family and I will never be shopping at Liberty Place again due to this outrageous, and frankly quite frightening display of ethnic intimidation and flat out scary demonstration by a group that was at your mall yesterday around 4 p.m.," one patron wrote to Liberty Place last May.
"When my children feel the need to grip on to me due to sheer terror at people protesting with very graphic signs and photos, that's where I draw the line."
A Black Israelites member who calls himself General Mahayaman said the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the biggest terrorist to black people because he sold them out.
"We blame the Christian church for the state of the black community," Mahayaman said. "We lay the blame at their door and people get upset."
He said the group selected the location in front of Liberty Place because of a violent fight involving 200 schoolchildren at 16th and Chestnut streets in April 2013. Several were injured and 14 were arrested.
"The incident with the 200 children is an example of why the things that we preach need to be heard," said Mahayaman, "because of black children, the state that they are in and the horrible future they have."
Last May, the owners of Liberty Place sued the Black Israelites seeking to ban the group from staging its loud Friday protests on the sidewalk at 16th and Chestnut. In July, Judge Ellen Ceisler ruled in favor of the group, saying that their speech is protected under the First Amendment.
Liberty Place appealed the order in November, and the case is pending before Superior Court.
"I believe in freedom of speech, they have the right to say how they feel," Moser said. "I just wish the things that they said were more positive."
"If you strongly believe something, go preach it," agreed Pawlicki. "However, I believe the way that they are doing it is completely wrong. Picking people out of the crowd individually and using the profanities that they do is not right."
Weekly permit rush
Each week, representatives of both Liberty Place and the Black Israelites rush to obtain permits from the city Managing Director's Office. The Black Israelites stand equipped with civil-affairs officers and Moser stands equipped with a three-man security team.
"When you're out there, you do your best to ignore it, but it's tough," Moser said. "I don't agree with what they are saying."
The group accuses him of playing the devil's music. Moser's response is to play "Why Can't We Be Friends" by Smash Mouth.
"We should all be one," Moser said. "A person should be judged by their character, not by their appearance, race or religion."
Moser, who has been spinning records for audiences since he was 16, said his passion for music makes doing it amid the din on a Center City street corner worthwhile.
Pawlicki said the Black Israelites call him "DJ White Devil."
"I try not to let it get under my skin," Pawlicki said. In response, he plays "Running With the Devil" by Van Halen.
Moser said he prides himself on playing open formats.
"It has always my specialty to mix them together," Moser said. "I play all different music, no matter the genre or era, so everybody has a good time."
Of course, this gig is different from those at nightclubs, corporate parties and weddings.
One time, Moser recalled, a passerby kicked down the paraphernalia and signage of the group. "It was scary," he said.
Citing that and other violent episodes, Liberty Place on Jan. 17 sought a preliminary injunction to keep the Black Israelites from demonstrating on the sidewalk area maintained by Liberty Place without written permission.
Judge Ceisler denied the petition.
James Funt, attorney for the Black Israelites, said the judge denied the injunction because the Israelites have not violated terms and conditions that had been set out before.
"We have remained completely legal and lawful," Mahayaman said. "They kicked over our signs, they hit us and they are saying it's our fault."
"We did nothing to harm the person that was assaulting us," he added.
"This was a heavy-handed attempt by Liberty Place to bully us and take away freedom of speech," Mahayaman said.
If the DJs don't do the trick, Liberty Place has other tactics up its corporate sleeve. The latest was to install a bike rack where the Black Israelites set up their stage.
But the group appears to be undaunted.
"We are still going to speak out there," Mahayaman said. "We want to be heard."