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'Weekend of rage' at Philly police station took sharp, militant tone

A multiracial crowd of blacks, whites, and Latinos protested the fatal police shootings of young black men around the country, marching Saturday night from the Fairhill section of North Philadelphia toward the 24th and 25th Districts and chanting angrily in what they proclaimed a "weekend of rage."

Philly Coalition for REAL Justice protesters confront police outside the 24th and 25th District headquarters. A multiracial crowd marched Saturday night in what they said was an effort to "disrupt" and "shut down" police activity and area traffic.
Philly Coalition for REAL Justice protesters confront police outside the 24th and 25th District headquarters. A multiracial crowd marched Saturday night in what they said was an effort to "disrupt" and "shut down" police activity and area traffic.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

A multiracial crowd of blacks, whites, and Latinos protested the fatal police shootings of young black men around the country, marching Saturday night from the Fairhill section of North Philadelphia toward the 24th and 25th Districts and chanting angrily in what they proclaimed a "weekend of rage."

Several hundred people held signs and banners and an occasional American flag, planning as one leader of the Philly Coalition for REAL Justice put it, to "disrupt" and "shut down" police activity and area traffic.

Earlier, organizers said the shooting deaths Thursday night of five white Dallas police officers by a black sniper would not deter them.

"F- the police," protesters yelled in a chant-and-repeat as they arrived at the district headquarters just after 9 p.m. in what appeared to be an effort to bait the officers to respond.

"Look 'em in the eyes," said protest leader Erica Mines. "The only thing different between you and me is that you got a weapon and I don't. F- you! We ain't scared of y'all!"

Unflinching, the officers lined up across the front of the building, standing quietly with their hands clasped before them. A camera was set up to photograph the participants.

Another protest leader, who identified herself only as Niecee from Dallas got within inches of the face of Police Inspector Michael McCarrick, commanding officer of the East Police Division. Other protesters crowded around as she taunted him.

"How much testosterone do you got?" she yelled, then said in an aside to the others: "They know that they have been beat. This is the face of fear."

Protesters lined up, too, and advanced toward the officers, some of them calling black officers "traitors."

"Without the uniform and badge, you are just like us," one protester told a black officer.

As some appeared to verbally harass another black officer, a fellow white officer came up behind his colleague, tapped him on the shoulder, and replaced him in the line.

Sgt. Eric Gripp, police spokesman, said just before 10 p.m. that he had no reports of injuries or arrests. By 10:40 - with no serious incidents reported - the marchers turned away from the police facility and headed down Whittaker Avenue.

"Stop killing us" and "The whole damn system is racist" declared signs and banners hoisted by some of the protesters.

As the march began, leader and coalition member Kamau Becktemba dismissed the sniper shooting deaths of the Dallas officers Thursday night.

"I'm not concerned for what that brother did when he killed those cops," said Becktemba, who drove a black SUV at the forefront of the protest. "It was justified rage."

Philadelphia protests in recent days have echoed similar demonstrations nationwide in the aftermath of the fatal shootings by police of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., on Tuesday, and of Philando Castile near St. Paul, Minn., on Wednesday.

Becktemba's vehicle was decorated with flags and signs, one of them bearing numerous photographs with the slogan "Stop murder by police."

As they marched, the speakers' messages took an increasingly sharp, militant tone, with as many as 50 uniformed police officers watching, most of them on bikes or motorcycles.

Long before nightfall, McCarrick had said: "We're here to protect the public and ensure their voice can be heard. . . . If they believe there is change that has to be effected, they have a right to be heard."

Many local residents came over to police officers to give them handshakes. Others waved cheers of support for the protesters from upstairs windows overlooking the protest route. Most, however, appeared to be neutral, even apprehensive as the crowds came through their neighborhoods.

"This isn't the same as it was two days ago," Niecee told the gathering early on. "This isn't the same America that you grew up in."

She gestured toward police. "This is occupation," she said. "This is not police who are performing a job. This is occupation. They occupy our neighborhoods the same way they did in Rhodesia, the same way they did in Mozambique, the same way they do in Puerto Rico, the same way they do in Nigeria . . ."

A man who identified himself only as Shabazz, said "I have a message for you. . . . You bleed just like we bleed, you got kids just like we got kids, and your ashes can get sent to the cemetery just like ours." He appeared to direct his remarks to "pigs," the police.

On Friday, the news and opinion website the Daily Beast published a report saying that a woman named Niecee Cornute from Dallas was one of three people detained by Dallas police after Micah Xavier Johnson shot and killed the five officers and wounded nine other people. The report identified Cornute as the founder of the Black Women's Defense League.

When asked by an Inquirer reporter Saturday night if she had, indeed, been detained in Dallas, Niecee declined to answer.

The Daily Beast also said that Malik Zulu Shabazz - whom it described as the "former head of the New Black Panther Party" - was the founder of the African American Defense League. The report said the AADL has long called for the deaths of white police officers.

Shabazz is quoted as saying that Niecee "was detained and released because she has no involvement in the shooting. She was a demonstrator."

Dallas police have not publicly identified the three people detained and questioned after the shootings.

One Philadelphia participant, Erica Wilkins, said she came out Saturday night "because of the continued and persistent murder, without justice, of our people."

One group chant, "No justice, no peace. Take it to the streets and f- the police," was picked up by dozens of those marching up Front Street.

Black protesters were joined early on by whites and Latinos. As night fell, some in the group chanted "El pueblo unido, jamas sera vencido" ("The people, united, will never be defeated.") Earlier Saturday, Philly Coalition organizer Asa Khalif, who is also active in the Black Lives Matter movement, said protesters chose the march location because it is where he contended an incident of police violence happened last week. He said the march would proceed 11/2 miles north to the two police districts, both located at 3901 Whitaker Ave., in North Philadelphia.

He said protesters planned to "shut down" police movement outside the building and to block traffic on Whitaker Avenue, but did not plan to go inside the police building, he said.

"Shut down is to disrupt, to stop traffic," he said. "Nothing coming in, nothing going out" of the police building.

Khalif said protesters picked the two districts because, he claims, they "have a history of violence toward black and brown people."

"We plan to shut the street down," he said. "We want to make it as uncomfortable for the police as possible."

Saturday's was the fourth straight day of activists protesting in Philadelphia against police for what they see as unjustified violence against black men nationwide.

On Friday night, activists marched in North Philadelphia and in Center City, going to City Hall, where they blocked traffic at 15th and Market Streets before heading to Police Headquarters.

On Thursday, black clergy and other activists marched in Center City.

On Wednesday, Black Lives Matter protesters blocked two ramps off the Vine Expressway, snarling Center City traffic during the evening commute.

The Thursday killings of five police officers in downtown Dallas by a black sniper who said he wanted to kill white people, especially police officers, isn't stopping the activists, Khalif said. Seven other officers were injured, as were two civilians.

Asked if calm shouldn't reign now given all the violence this past week, Khalif said: "Absolutely not."

"The reason why there is such chaos," he said, is the "generational violence that police have preyed upon black people."

The Philly Coalition for REAL Justice picked Mascher and Cambria Streets as the start of its Saturday evening march because, the group alleges, one of its members was arrested after filming an incident at that intersection in which it contends police were "aggressively harassing" a person in the community, a coalition member who signed his name as Cornelius wrote by email.

The group alleges its member who was filming, who was not named in the email, was taken into custody, given a rough ride in a police vehicle, and assaulted at a police district.

On its Facebook page, the group wrote: "Last Thursday, the police arrested one of our comrades who filmed the arrest of another young man at the corner of Mascher and Cambria Streets. They threatened him and his partner with physical harm, broke his toe, and then gave him a $300 citation for several bogus charges, including 'disorderly conduct.' "

No further details about the alleged incident could be immediately obtained from the group.

The 25th District covers Mascher and Cambria Streets.

Sgt. Brendan Bownes, of the district, and Sgt. Eric Gripp, a police spokesman, said separately Saturday that they had not heard of the alleged incident. "If it did occur, it would be in the proper channels for being investigated," said Bownes.

Gripp wrote by email that what the group is alleging "would certainly be grounds for them to file a complaint against police so that it can be thoroughly investigated by our Internal Affairs Division."

No one was available in the Internal Affairs Division Saturday to find out if any complaint was made.

Of Saturday evening's expected protest, Gripp said: "As always, we'll be on hand to ensure that the First Amendment rights of the protesters are protected."

Khalif is a cousin of Brandon Tate-Brown, 26, who was shot and killed by a Philadelphia police officer during a traffic stop in Mayfair on Dec. 15, 2014. Neither of the two officers involved in the traffic stop were charged.

"My family members are still grieving over Brandon Tate-Brown," Khalif said.

"I don't believe in killing anyone," he added.

As for Sunday, Khalif said: "I don't know what's planned for tomorrow, but I'm sure there will be disruption."

215-854-2592 @julieshawphilly