Protesters gathered outside Philadelphia’s City Hall in the hours leading up to an announcement from the Grand Jury in the case of the murder of Mike Brown by racist cop Darren Wilson. Hundreds had gathered to listen to the official announcement by Prosecutor McCulloch, and began to march as soon as the outrageous decision to not indict was confirmed.
The demonstration was called by a wide variety of progressive and radical organizations in the city, including Black Lives Matter, the ANSWER Coalition, International Action Center, FIST (Fight Imperialism, Stand Together), West Philly Food Not Bombs, Direction Voice Light, ICFFMAJ (International Concerned Family & Friends of Mumia Aby-Jamal), PURP (People Utilizing Real Power), Party for Socialism and Liberation, Workers World Party, Up Against the Law Legal Collective, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement – Philly Chapter and others.
The march that followed travelled across many neighborhoods in the city, lasting four hours – until approximately 1:30 a.m. Although at times the notoriously racist Philadelphia police attempted to block certain streets, they would eventually back down when confronted by protesters.
The November 24th march went around Center City, down the busy South St. and then headed north parallel to highway I-95. Refusing to allow business as usual in the wake of such an incredible injustice, protesters attempted to march onto the highway, as was done in several other cities across the country. Although demonstrators were able to get part of the way up several on-ramps, they were eventually blocked by lines of police, who assaulted several marchers with their bicycles.
Around this time, two organizers of the demonstration – Felix Nnumolu and Naveed Ahsan – were arrested by cops intent on repressing the people’s right to fight back in solidarity with Ferguson. This only heightened protesters’ determination to continue the march.
The action concluded by going through Chinatown to return to City Hall, and protesters dispersed to prepare for the next day.
The day after the grand jury decision
Activities on Nov. 25 began with a march from City Hall to Broad St. and Cecil B Moore Ave. Broad and Cecil B Moore is in the heart of North Central Philadelphia, a working class Black community that is the target of racist gentrification carried out by Temple University, real estate developers and the banks. Turnout was even larger than the previous day.
At the rally, several community members spoke about the suffering they endured because of police brutality. One man, Luis Berrios, recounted a horrifying experience when police arrived at his home as he and his boyfriend were having an argument. Once the police realized that the two men were dating, they dragged Berrios and his boyfriend out into their front yard and began beating them.
In an interview with Liberation, Berrios expressed deep determination to win justice. This is the first time he has spoken out publically, but felt a deep need to “stand up for all those who did not make it through their experience of police brutality.” His fight back was also motivated by a desire to “stand up for those in the LGBT community who have suffered but are afraid to speak out.”
This spirit of defiance, inspired by the resistance in Ferguson, was a common theme among the speakers. Chairing the rally, PSL and PURP member Kashara White called on the people to rise up:
“North Philadelphia has always been the cite of rebellion and change for Black people in Philadelphia. PURP seeks to continue that tradition of Black Radical resistance and the support and allegiance with Ferguson protesters. The struggle against police brutality and state sanctioned murder of Black youth is vital to that mission.We have come to a point in human history where our options for future successes and freedoms are few. Either humanity will commit to ending capitalism or we will surrender and allow capitalism to destroy humanity, it is that simple. We have run out of options of reform. We need a new system all together.”
After the rally concluded, the crowd marched through a police line to begin traveling to the precinct where Nnumolu and Ahsan were being held. Undeterred by the enormous police presence, which included helicopters and cops on horseback, hundreds held a sit-in after arriving at the destination, refusing to move until the two activists were released.
After two and a half hours, the police finally relented and freed Nnumolu and Ahsan, who were received with cheers and chanting by the crowd outside. They were unjustly charged with two misdemeanors, but the movement is determined to continue to support them and demand that the charges be dropped.
Reenergized after this victory, the march continued into center city, stopping at City Hall before marching to Rittenhouse Square. Rittenhouse is the most exclusive neighborhood in the city, home to many members of Philadelphia’s ruling class. There was a brief standoff as police tried to block protesters from entering the area, but again they eventually gave in and the demonstration continued.
The action concluded around midnight in Rittenhouse, where demonstrators rested and strategized after an intense but impactful nine hours of protesting. A town hall meeting to plan the next steps for the movement will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 2 at 6:30 p.m. at Calvary Church (48th St. and Baltimore Ave.), and on Monday, Dec. 1 PSL and #DCFerguson leader Eugene Puryear will speak on “Building a National Movement for Justice” at the William Way LGBT Center (1315 Spruce St.) at 7:00 p.m.