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Ferguson protest gains Philly flavor

An eclectic group of protesters added gentrification and more local issues to its rally yesterday.

Loren Robbinson, of South Philly, joins a Ferguson protest at Broad and Cecil B. Moore in  Philadelphia on November 25, 2014. ( DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer )
Loren Robbinson, of South Philly, joins a Ferguson protest at Broad and Cecil B. Moore in Philadelphia on November 25, 2014. ( DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer )Read moreDavid Maialetti

HUNDREDS OF people flooded Philadelphia's streets yesterday, weaving through tumbledown blocks of North Philly to share a unified message:

Things need to change.

For the second consecutive day, local protesters - residents, Temple University students and spiritual leaders - rallied to decry the grand jury's decision Monday to not indict Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Mo., police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown.

But the fervor in Philly wasn't just reserved for Ferguson: The demonstrators had a long list of demands, including body cameras for city police officers, freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal and the release of two of their own.

"It's incredible, I didn't expect to have so many positive vibes," Naveed Ahsan said last night after he was arraigned on a disorderly conduct charge at the Central Detective Division, on 21st Street near Hamilton in Spring Garden.

Ahsan, 22, a former Daily News reporting intern, was arrested during a protest march alongside Felix Nnumolu, 24, late Monday when the pair broke through a police blockade and ran onto Interstate 95 in Old City.

Although his actions were "kinda stupid," Ahsan said, he wasn't looking for recognition but was just following what he thought was the protest plan.

"It was all so sudden," he said. "I looked back, and no one was behind me."

Last night, after posting bail and rejoining the protesters, he expressed gratitude for the mass of about 100 people who had camped outside Central Detectives for about two hours chanting, "We are Naveed!" and calling for his release.

"I just got a little misdemeanor; I can't believe everyone has been so supportive," he said by phone as he marched with his peers south on Walnut Street last night.

The group that eventually met Ahsan had formed hours earlier at City Hall as several disjointed activist groups.

By 3 p.m., their numbers had doubled, and by 4 p.m. a band of about 500 marched north on Broad Street to Cecil B. Moore Avenue, where the protest climaxed in an "open-mic" rally of speakers.

Standing in the shadow of Temple's Morgan Hall, with signs and fists pumping, the crowd alternated between demanding justice for Brown and fixing the "broken system," including calls for freedom from the "gentrification" that they say Temple has forced on its neighborhood.

Payne Schroeder, 22, a member of the student group People Utilizing Real Power, urged the collected masses to oppose the university's "colonial imperialism."

"Temple is creating millions of Mike Browns in Philly," Schroeder said. "Its development rips all value out of the neighborhood, tells the people who live there that they have no worth, and that the only way to get that worth is for them to come in and build."

Schroeder's message was bolstered by the Rev. Gregory Holston, co-chair for economic dignity for POWER, an interfaith activist group.

With the fiery passion he normally reserves for the pulpit, Holston lent his voice to the young protesters around him.

"This fight is not just in Ferguson - we are all Mike Brown: We are him when we go to a struggling school; we are him when we are approached by a police officer; we are him on the subway.

"We need to stand strong to decide what we need to do to bring change to this city."

Soledad Alfaro-Allah, 16, Philly's Youth Poet Laureate, seemed to agree.

Yesterday she recited a poem she wrote for the rally, weaving imagery of violence and revolution.

"Hang it high, America," she said. "We're so bold, so beautiful; tell our story in blood-stained stitching."

With that call to action, the group mobilized again, taking a winding path through North Philly to reach Central Detectives and the awaiting Ahsan and Nnumolu.

When the group arrived, another impromptu rally began, this one featuring a more-concrete connection to Ferguson.

Tammira Stewart, 26, a native of St. Louis studying at Community College of Philadelphia, spoke in front of a wall of police officers blocking the detective division's front doors.

"I felt compelled to come out tonight, I felt it was my duty as someone from St. Louis," she said, adding that she had checked in with her relatives and that they were safe amid the chaos.

Stewart, who was a high school classmate of a cousin of Brown's, said she watched the grand jury's announcement in tears at her North Philly apartment.

"I have two young nephews; how can I tell them that they live in a society that doesn't value them?" she said.

She said she was "happy" with the turnout in Philly, adding that it was only the beginning.

"It's a great start," she said, "but we're going to be out here for a long time."

No arrests were made yesterday.