Representatives of over a dozen groups planning protests in Philadelphia during the Democratic National Convention joined forces at a press conference June 28 to say they would take to the streets — with or without permits. The press conference was organized by the Philadelphia Coalition for Racial, Economic and Legal (R.E.A.L.) Justice and Workers World Party, which are coordinating marches to “Shut Down the DNC” on July 26.
This event and a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union may have had results: On July 1 two of the groups announced they had received word that their applications for march permits would be granted.
At the press conference, speakers voiced concerns that the city had either delayed approval or outright denied permits to march during the DNC from July 25 to 28. Several also denounced efforts by Mayor Jim Kenney to ban marches in Center City during morning and afternoon rush hours during the DNC. Groups that have frequently marched in the city during rush hour accused Kenney of trying to use the DNC to set a precedent that could then be used against future demonstrations.
While the actual convention will be held at the Wells Fargo Center, miles away from Center City, most DNC delegates will be staying at hotels in downtown Philadelphia, and are expected to spend considerable time there.
Erica Mines, from R.E.A.L. Justice, opened the press conference with a list of demands that included decriminalizing First Amendment-protected protests by allowing all protesters, with or without permits, to march in the streets in front of the convention. Mines also called on the city to repeal the rush hour ban and to shut down prisons where the mayor plans to hold demonstrators.
“We don’t trust the city,” charged Mines. “Mayor Kenney proclaimed that protests would be decriminalized, yet he is planning space in several prisons to hold protesters at the DNC. He says he supports freedom of speech, and now he’s banning ‘rush hour’ protests. He’s the same person who ran on a platform to end the racist stop-and-frisk policies, yet has failed to do so.”
Deandra Jefferson, also of R.E.A.L. Justice, denounced Philadelphia’s plan to spend $60 million on the DNC instead of reopening shut-down city schools. “The DNC is not coming to Philadelphia to address gentrification,” she stressed. “They will not even be talking about racism in the city where the MOVE organization and an entire Black community was bombed under another Democratic mayor.”
Scott Williams, of Workers World Party, noted that Wells Fargo, one of the biggest banks in the world, which was founded on profits from slavery, is hosting the DNC. “The DNC has a sordid history of cutting welfare, expanding prison populations and promoting wars abroad,” said Williams. “We are concerned that labor, LGBTQ, impoverished, immigrant and Black and Brown communities — those who have the most reason to protest in the streets — could be denied their rights long after the DNC leaves town. Philadelphia has a shameless legacy of arresting activists — from communists during the McCarthy period to members of the Black Panther Party, the MOVE Organization and, more recently, activists marching under the Black Lives Matter banners.”
Civil rights attorney Larry Krasner asked: “If Philadelphia can shut down Center City streets for the annual Mummers Parade, or after major wins by sports teams, shouldn’t allowing access for First Amendment protests be more important?”
Krasner also reminded the city that attorneys in Philadelphia have a “remarkable record” of wins at trials of protesters, including the 400 people who were arrested during an earlier DNC and several recent anti-police brutality actions in Philadelphia.
Shani Akila, an organizer with the Black and Brown Workers’ Collective, spoke for poor people pushed out of their communities by gentrification: “Now they are preparing to shut us out of the DNC and shut down our protests. We have every right to rise up against a system that is murdering us and we have every right to be heard.” She also called out Hillary Clinton for supporting repression in Haiti and wars in Africa.
Other speakers included ACLU attorney Mary Katherine Roper; Cheri Honkala, with the Poor Peoples’ Economic Human Rights Campaign; Jody Dodd, from Up Against the Law Collective; Del Matthews, whose son Frank McQueen was killed by police in 2014; Brianna Jones, from the DNC Actions Committee; and Asa Khalif, with Black Lives Matter, whose cousin Brandon Tate Brown was also murdered by police in 2014.
Many commercial as well as independent media outlets covered the press conference.
Test case for new citation law
An incident on June 30 shows how the police interpret the new law on citations. R.E.A.L. Justice organizer Rufus Farmer was on his way to a meeting in North Philadelphia when he noticed police pushing an older man to the ground.
Farmer told Workers World that when he left his car to video the incident, police from the 26th District threw him to the ground and handcuffed him, injuring his knee and breaking his toe. Farmer was given a “rough ride” through sections of North Philadelphia and finally released behind the precinct.
“They took the cuffs off, handed me a $300 citation, and told me I was free to go,” Farmer reported. “I didn’t even know where I was, but I did know that police from the 26th District have one of the highest reported rates of police brutality.”
Farmer was wearing a “Free Mumia” T-shirt, which was torn by the police. He reported that police called him a “professional protester,” making it clear they knew him. He and Erica Mines made international news in April when they confronted former President Bill Clinton during a campaign rally for Hillary Clinton.