Philadelphia police shut down new Occupy ICE camp near City Hall, four demonstrators taken away as protests erupt
The protest, just north of City Hall, periodically shut down Broad Street traffic through the morning. It came as anti-ICE demonstrations were scheduled to take place across the country in a national Day of Action, demanding the elimination of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency,
A total of four protesters were handcuffed and taken away during a long, loud, and contentious Occupy ICE demonstration that arose on Center City streets and sidewalks Tuesday after authorities shut down a third encampment.
The calls, chants, and insults from the group began before 9 a.m. and continued into the afternoon. Demonstrators promised to enlarge their rally at 5:30 p.m., mounting a strengthening protest on the east side of City Hall.
At one point, a wrestling match ensued in the center of the intersection at Broad and Arch Streets between police who were taking away a man trying to block traffic and demonstrators who attempted to pull him out of the officers' arms.
"This is why you all get shot!" one demonstrator yelled at police. Another stood silent in front of a line of officers, his middle fingers raised.
The protest, just north of City Hall, periodically shut down Broad Street traffic through the morning. It came as anti-ICE demonstrations were scheduled to take place across the country in a national Day of Action. Protesters want the elimination of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which is charged with finding, arresting, and deporting undocumented immigrants.
"We're going to continue organizing," said Occupy leader Xelba Gutierrez, 34, of Philadelphia. "The protesting is not going to stop."
Sound systems and bullhorns blared at passing drivers, one of whom yelled, "Build the wall!"
Earlier this month, Philadelphia police raided and destroyed the Occupy ICE encampment that set up outside the ICE office at Eighth and Cherry Streets. Demonstrators regrouped on the east side of City Hall, but after about three weeks were peacefully evicted from there on Friday, when city officials said the area was about to become a construction zone.
Among other demands, demonstrators had called on the city to end an agreement that allowed ICE to have access to a law enforcement database known as PARS. Mayor Kenney announced on Friday that he was terminating the contract but said the demands of Occupy ICE played little role in his thinking. The concerns of the city's immigrant communities, shared with him over months, exerted much more influence, the mayor said.
Over the weekend, protesters built a third camp on a slice of lawn that hugs the east edge of the concrete carpet surrounding the Municipal Services Building. Many homeless people joined the cause there, finding food, shelter, and fellowship.
"This has become a shelter for a lot of our unhoused brothers," said Occupy ICE leader Deborah Rose.
Kenney administration officials said Tuesday that the demonstrators had been told well in advance that they needed to vacate the site — informed by letter on Sunday and several times verbally after that. The administration viewed the camp not as a third settlement, but as a continuation of the second.
"We had an extreme public-health issue at the City Hall encampment," said mayoral spokesperson Mike Dunn. "Their representatives made promises to decamp. They didn't. They simply moved down the street. … We're simply not going to allow this situation to persist as we did at City Hall."
City regulations do not allow the creation of encampments that include structures.
On Tuesday morning, demonstrators departed the camp as police looked on, saying they were angry and insisting that their constitutional rights to assembly and free speech were being violated.
"We could not put our folks at risk, " Gutierrez said. "For now, the camp is pulling back."
What remained was torn down and tossed into a city dump truck, as work crews moved in. Soon, steel fencing was erected around the strip of property.
"They barricaded the grass?" one protester asked.
By midmorning, it looked as if the camp had never existed, and demonstrators, numbering about 40 at peak, moved into the street, stopping traffic until police issued a third and final order to disperse.
Most then massed on the sidewalk outside the Arch Street United Methodist Church. As many as 50 police officers stood ready. Throughout the morning, demonstrators played a dodge and dash game with police, running into the street and then pulling back.
Two people were taken into custody in separate incidents after they moved into the center of Broad Street. A third was later taken away. All three were cited for failure to disperse.
Later, a fourth person — a woman who kept crossing Broad and getting in the faces of police — was handcuffed and removed.
Protest leaders said eight demonstrators were arrested while staging a sit-in at the Comcast Center, 17th Street and JFK Boulevard. Police said they could not immediately confirm that.
Movement leaders said that with the mayor's decision to end the PARS agreement, their demands have shifted. They continue to call for the elimination of ICE and the closing of the family detention center in Berks County, where ICE holds immigrants awaiting hearings or deportation, but they also want an end to stop-and-frisk practices by the police.
On Tuesday, news reporting from Washington created questions around the direction of the Occupy ICE movement.
Facebook announced it had identified a coordinated campaign in which dozens of inauthentic accounts were politicizing divisive social issues ahead of November's midterm elections. The New York Times further reported that coordinated activity was detected around the #AbolishICE campaign on social media, which echoed 2016 efforts to create division around Black Lives Matter.
The local Occupy ICE movement is diverse, covering a wide span of ages and races, and including people who have come to the cause from other prominent movements such as Black Lives Matter. Some just say they want to make a difference — a college student at Drexel, another a bike messenger, a third homeless and looking for work.
Many demand that not only ICE but also police departments be abolished.
In Philadelphia, there's conflict between police and demonstrators over use of the term arrest.
For some years now, when protesters have become unruly, they have generally been removed, detained, and cited — similar to being given a traffic ticket. Police don't typically consider those detentions to be "arrests" because they don't carry a subsequent criminal charge, such as simple assault, that would require an arraignment and court appearance.
But some civil rights activists disagree, saying if someone is forcibly handcuffed and unwillingly removed from the scene, then that person has been arrested, even if they're only temporarily in custody.
Sometimes even the police conflate the terms. The news release issued after a mass protest outside the ICE office earlier this month referred to "arrests" and "arrestees."
On Tuesday, at the protest near Broad and Arch Streets, Apollo Sean Robbins, 27, of Philadelphia, stood with his hand over his heart, as if he had frozen while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
He said he came to the demonstration to try to help others assert their rights. Later in morning, he dashed into the street, blocked traffic, and disappeared beneath a group of five or six police officers.