Philadelphia cops arrest Black Lives Matter activists

Activists celebrate release from jail; Scott Williams, second from right.WW photo: Joseph Piette

Activists celebrate release from jail; Scott Williams, second from right.
WW photo: Joseph Piette

Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey and District Attorney Seth Williams planned to address a local Town Hall on March 19 with the intention of whitewashing recent police killings which have led to the movement against police brutality rocking the city and the country.

Before the event could start, however, around 40 demonstrators from the Philadelphia Coalition for REAL (Racial, Economic and Legal) Justice as well as Action against Black Genocide, the Trayvon Martin Organizing Committee and others confronted these establishment figures with chants of “No justice, no peace, no racist police!”

When the protesters stepped in front of the speakers, top civilian affairs police started aggressively pushing them. The scene erupted as more police attacked protesters, trying to start fights. Leading activists, including some who had not even been at the front of the crowd, were arrested.

This explosion of violence by the police was posted immediately on the Internet. Media from across the U.S. showed that the people of Philadelphia have a serious problem with police racism and corruption.

The Black Lives Matter Movement in Philadelphia has been taking on one of the country’s most notoriously racist, corrupt and violent police organizations. Earlier that day, DA Williams had announced that the city would not be pressing charges against any Philadelphia police officers in the Dec. 15, 2014, police killing of Brandon Tate-Brown.

The incident, involving two cops who shot Tate-Brown in the back of the head after pulling him over in the middle of the night — he was “driving while Black” — led to organizing by the Philadelphia Coalition for REAL Justice, along with Tate-Brown’s mother, Tonya Brown.

Police Chief Ramsey, who is currently President Obama’s “Top Cop” and leader of Washington’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, has refused to release the tapes in the case of Brandon Tate-Brown. He also refuses to identify the police officers who killed Tate-Brown. Rather, Ramsey has attempted to pacify the movement through “soft” policing: using informants, a strong police presence and civilian affairs officers who try to befriend demonstrators. This is so he won’t have to arrest demonstrators and can keep his image as a progressive police chief.

While he has built the image of the ultimate “good cop,” Ramsey’s history is quite the opposite. As police chief in Washington, D.C., Ramsey led illegal mass arrests of thousands of protesters in 2000, 2002 and 2003. Since taking over the Philadelphia police in 2008, he has trained 1,500 in the use of AR-15 assault rifles. That means the Philly police are ready at any moment to wage war against this majority-Black city, which the Philadelphia Inquirer describes as “the poorest big city in America.”

Arrests in tradition of racist Rizzo

The Philadelphia police are historically a violent, criminal organization that crushes its opposition. Frank Rizzo, the right-wing police chief-turned-mayor in the 1960s and 1970s, used terror against the Black Panthers, anti-war activists and anyone building a strong political movement on the left.

Rizzo’s legacy is not a thing of the past. In the 1980s, the Philly police framed Mumia Abu-Jamal and tried to legally lynch him through the courts. In 1979 and 1985, the Philly police laid siege to the MOVE organization’s headquarters. On May 13, 1985, they shot over 1,000 rounds of ammunition and dropped explosives on the MOVE house from helicopters, eventually killing 11 people and burning down 65 houses in West Philadelphia.

The vicious machinations of the Philadelphia police did not end 30 years ago. Heavy repression in the buildup to the 2000 Republican Convention, the November 2011 eviction of Occupy Philadelphia and the current attack on the Black Lives Matter movement proves that the Philadelphia police — no matter how progressive their leadership wants to appear — is still a wildly repressive, anti-democratic organization.

In response to the latest incident, the Philadelphia Coalition for REAL Justice immediately released a statement condemning the police violence. “This is just another example of cops abusing their power. We have the right to peacefully assemble and question those in positions of power. Tonight, Philly police responded with arrests and threats of arrest,” said Deandra Jefferson.

The Philly Coalition for REAL Justice is demanding the release of the name of the officer who shot Brandon Tate-Brown and of the police tapes that show the killing, as well as that all charges be dropped against those arrested.

The movement against racist police brutality will continue until the killer cops are jailed and justice is won for Brandon Tate-Brown and all victims of police brutality. Now the struggle includes justice for the “Philly 10” and all those whose democratic rights are stolen and abused by police.

Williams is one of the 10 people targeted and arrested by Philadelphia police at the March 19 Town Hall.