What happened last night in West Philly? Demands for justice, fire, kettling by police - Generocity Philly

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Oct. 28, 2020 12:20 pm

What happened last night in West Philly? Demands for justice, fire, kettling by police

Vanessa Maria Graber, a producer at PhillyCAM and organizer with Free Press, posted this account of events last night on her Facebook page.

Cardboard, sofas, debris, and pallets burning on Chestnut Street.

(Screencapture from Vanessa Maria Graber's video)

This guest column was first published as an account on journalist Vanessa Maria Graber's Facebook page. It is published with her permission.
Correction: Graber has corrected her account, saying protestors were marching toward the 18th police district, not the site of Wallace's shooting. (October 29, 4:40 a.m.)
Over 1,000 people assembled in Philly on Tuesday night to protest the unjust killing of Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old man from West Philadelphia who was shot multiple times by police yesterday.

The gathering started in Malcolm X Park with a rally and various speakers from the community who spoke against the murder of Walter Wallace and demanded justice for his death. They advocated against the use of state-sanctioned violence against Black and brown people and called the community to put their hands up and fight back.

Protesters then marched through West Philly to the 18th Police District.

The march arrived to location only to be greeted by more than 50 police in riot gear assembled in a blockade across 55th to prevent protesters from getting closer to the scene of the crime. The whole area was cordoned off with barricades and police vehicles.

Street memorial. (Photo by Vanessa M. Graber)

The large and diverse crowd of protesters chanted, played music, danced, and yelled at police and demanded justice for Walter Wallace.

The people gathered were peaceful, but at one point a person was arrested and detained by police. A violent confrontation ensued between the police and the arrestee, but at a distance I could not see if he was resisting arrest or the police were just being abusive toward him. We also don’t know what he is accused of or where they took him.

About an hour into the protest, a truck with a jumbotron on the back of it, displaying a slide show of Wallace’s pictures, drove through the crowds up to the police line.

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After more chanting and a standoff with the riot police, the protesters marched north on 52nd street where a scuffle between protesters and police occurred. Protesters were throwing water and juice bottles at a small group of police and made them retreat down a side street.

A few protesters followed, throwing more debris and trash at police while running after them.

As the protest marched north on 52nd street, fireworks were set off and scores of police started running towards protesters from the south, causing a stampede. Police were chasing us with their batons and hundreds of people started running East and West on Market St, dividing the protest in two.

I was on the West side when I observed at least a dozen police beating protesters with batons and arresting them. I’m not sure of the exact amount but at least a dozen protesters were put in police vans and driven away.

The police quickly barricaded the area with bikes and kettled-in protesters, a tactic commonly used to make mass arrests.

Residents stood outside smoking cigarettes, filming, and watching in amazement.

Because there were cars and trucks everywhere still driving down 52nd and Market, the police were also chaotically attempting to control traffic. Officers were stopping people from moving, but I was able to cross police lines and run through the cars by waving my press badge.

I ran to the East side to meet the other half of the protesters and get away from the violent attacks which were happening on 52nd street underneath the El overpass.

When I reached the other side, I saw there were still protesters kettled inside of 52nd and Market ,but the police pushed us back with their bikes and forced everyone, including press, to go further East down Market Street so eventually they were out of view and I could not determine what happened to them.

I asked the legal observers about arrests and they said it was also hard for them to count the number because of the chaos. We don’t know what happened to the people inside the kettle. The remaining protesters engaged in a brief standoff with the bike police and then marched to Chestnut Street and continued East.

On Chestnut Street several people began collecting trash like cardboard, sofas, debris, and pallets and dragging them to the middle of the street to be set on fire. Dumpsters were also rolled onto Chestnut Street and set ablaze. About 15 minutes later the fire department got to the scene and extinguished the burning furniture. Oddly, they let the dumpster fires burn.

 

Residents stood outside smoking cigarettes, filming, and watching in amazement. Some were screaming at protesters to stop, others cheered them on, while some stared in shock.

Helicopters circled around us for hours.

When I left the area I saw the liquor store on Baltimore Avenue being looted. People were running down the street with boxes of liquor and a man was waving a handgun and arguing with a woman. I saw more people running down the street from different directions so I kept driving and rushed back to Port Richmond.

On I-95, the Girard Avenue was blocked off by flares and a police vehicle so I took the Allegheny exit where, high up on 95, I could see at least three helicopters circling that area.

Driving down Westmoreland the police chased and arrested a young Black man and shoved him in a police vehicle. As I proceeded West, a small crowd gathered outside the Port Richmond pharmacy. The windows had been broken and it looked like it got robbed.

The police barricaded the entrance to Aramingo Ave. at Westmoreland and also blocked the side streets on Gaul. A fire engine was racing down Ontario Street and people were running down the street with merchandise. In front of the Auto Zone, a large van was pulled up to the front door. Several stores were broken into, robbed, and left wide open.

I finally got home and am now writing this story. When I say it was wild in Philly tonight, I mean it was W-I-L-D. I’m tired. This is not normal. I hate to see my city like this.

 

It hurts my heart to see the violence, the police occupation, the destruction, and the pain many are experiencing. The community is genuinely hurt by all of it. We need justice for Walter Wallace and all victims of police violence. His family needs justice. Police need to be held accountable for their actions before the community can heal.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring but I will do my best to keep everyone informed. I want everyone to stay safe out there and love each other.

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