“The cops are not our people”

Hundreds of peaceful protesters marched in west Philadelphia Tuesday night after a rally at Malcom X Park demanding justice for the killing of Walter Wallace Jr. by two police officers.

The rally began shortly after 6 PM. It was organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) Philadelphia chapter and endorsed by the Philadelphia Student Union, Neighbors for Healthy Community Development, Black Lives Matter Philly, Black Alliance for Peace, Protect the Protesters, LILAC Philly, and Penn Community for Justice.

Ashley, a 17-year old high school senior and Philadelphia Student’s Union member, addressed the crowd first:

“A black man was killed yesterday in front of his mother, and that is something that we should all be angry about.”

Next up, a teacher and organizer with PSL railed against the Philadelphia Police Department:

“They had a mother. They had a father. They had a twin. They were loved by somebody. And the police thought that they could take their life without a thought. . . I have never once in my life felt safe around a police officer. They are not here to protect me or any one of us.”

The speakers made clear that one of their fundamental demands is complete community control of the police.

“You know who I’ll call when someone happens in my streets?” the teacher asked the crowd. “I’ll call my neighbor. . . If someone was having issues on the block, we’ll talk to them. That’s what being a neighbor is. The cops are not our neighbors. The cops are not our friends. The cops are not our people. Our neighbors are our people.”

An organizer with Black Alliance for Peace urged the crowd, “We must come up with ways for treating people who are having a mental crisis without calling the police. I said ‘without calling the police.’”

Mike, an organizer with Workers World Party and longtime resident of Philly, pointed out that Philadelphia police officers have no understanding of the Black way of life in Philadelphia or Black people in general:

“They don’t understand us. They don’t understand our customs. They don’t understand anything. So when they are put in a position where they feel like their lives are put in danger, it’s very easy to do what they did yesterday. When you come into a very poor neighborhood, you have to find value in that neighborhood.”

Community members across the country have long criticized police departments for a lack of understanding and connection to the communities in which they police. According to an investigation by NBC10, The Philadelphia Police Department recruits officers from all over the country. Currently, 1 in 5 city officers live in the suburbs. Organizers like Mike contend that policing would be far less destructive if officers lived in the communities in which they work.

Krystal Strong, an organizer with BLM Philly, delivered the final and most moving speech of the night:

“I stood in front of the house of Walter Wallace Jr. I listened to his aunt talk about how good a dude Walter Wallace Jr. was. I listened to his cousins talk about how the cop who killed him had a taser on his hip, and still chose to shoot him 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 times.”

On Monday, Philadelphia police chief Danielle Outlaw said that neither officer involved in the shooting had a taser. Strong’s statement directly contradicts what Outlaw claimed.

Strong continued:

“And we are watching the way that Walter White is becoming a symbol. And we are losing sight of the fact that this was a person! Not a fucking hashtag! This is a man who got married three weeks ago. Who has children. Who has a child on the way! . . . I want all of you right now to take a moment to think about the life that was lost yesterday. Walter Wallace Jr. was his fucking name!

Strong was angry that energy from summer-long protests in Philadelphia is being directed toward getting Joe Biden elected:

“The first chance some of y’all got, y’all took your asses home, and started talking Biden-Harris. How the fuck we spent all summer talking about ‘Abolish the Police’ and then the first chance we get, we sitting up here talking about holding hands with the author of the crime bill and someone that calls themselves a ‘top cop’. The math ain’t mathin’! Which one is it?”

Strong then made the connection between the struggle of Black people in the United States and the oppressed in places all around the world:

“Last night, when the police car was burning up, I listened to a sister shout, ‘This is happening in Nigeria too! This is happening in Nigeria too! It’s happening all over Africa. And what she was saying is, Black people are fighting for their lives in every corner of this fucking planet. . . We are all fighting against capitalism, against white supremacy, against policing, against imperialism.”

The rally concluded after an evocative appeal from Strong:

“We need to be fucking clear about what we are fighting for! There is no reforming this shit. If you thought we could reform this shit, then why is Walter Wallace Jr. dead? . . . it’s not just defund either. We need to rip the root out of the fucking soil and build something new!”

After the conclusion of the rally, chanting protesters marched north on S. 51st Street to the S. 51st and Market St intersection. At the intersection, a small disagreement broke out between leaders of the march on whether to head west, toward the heart of west Philly, or east toward downtown.

The majority of protesters ended up heading west on Market St. From there, they turned and began marching south on S. 52nd St. On Market St., police presence was oversized. Multiple police cruisers, vans, trucks, and buses lined the street along with over one hundred police officers, many of whom were on guard outside storefronts.

As the crowd marched south on S. 52nd St., dozens of cars headed north honked in solidarity with the marchers. I spoke with a few residents and business owners as the marchers passed by. Every person I spoke with supported the demonstrations and marches but made a clear point to condemn the looting and violence that had erupted the night prior.

Reverend Jones of The Fisherman’s House World Evangelistic Church on 52nd St. commented, “I think it’s great that everyone is out here.” When I asked his reaction to looting in the neighborhood the night before he said, “Of course it’s terrible. We need to protect our communities.”

Marchers eventually hung a right to march down Pine St. At the intersection of 55th St. and Pine, a line of officers clad in riot gear blocked the crowd from advancing. At this point, hundreds of protesters were crammed in an area stretching from the front of the barricade all the way back to S. 53rd St.

The highlight of the standoff between protesters and police at 55th St. and Pine came when a Nissan pickup truck (not an Amazon van as I first suspected) appeared and slowly advanced west on Pine St toward the police barricade. A man stood on the hood of the truck as it advanced, shouting “Black Lives Matter”. But it was the signage at the back of the truck that drew applause and cheers from the crowd.

A three-sided digital sign was attached to the back of the truck, cycling tributes to Walter Wallace Jr. The truck remained near the front of the barricade for 15–20 minutes and then backed away. One of the images was a drawing of Wallace Jr. smiling with the words “Justice for Walter Wallace Jr.” Another displayed “De-Escalate, Don’t Shoot!”

It needs to be emphasized that it was an entirely peaceful 4 hours that I spent with protesters in west Philadelphia last night. Many in the media are desperately trying to tie looting from the past two nights to the peaceful protests that occurred at the same time. This report should put those incorrect conclusions to rest, at least when it comes to Tuesday night.

Black people in Philadelphia are mad as hell. They have spent the entire summer and fall in the streets fighting for their lives, and their people are still being slaughtered. The anger and passion that I saw on display last night was righteous. Black people not just in Philadelphia continue to be annihilated by racist police departments, the prison-industrial complex, and an economy that has determined they are second-class citizens.

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