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Emotions and police presence run high at DNC Black Lives Matter protest
A tense protest tempered by kindness and tea.
A Tuesday evening protest at Philadelphia City Hall brought black community issues to the forefront of the Democratic National Convention—and drew more police presence than any other rally this week.
What appeared to be two or three separate marches converged into one outside City Hall at around 5pm ET, bringing a Black Lives Matter contingent together with local groups addressing gentrification, the ongoing imprisonment of local journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, and Bernie Sanders supporters.
A series of vehicles pulled into the street adjacent to the city hall building—including a truck adorned with African flags and megaphones—and stopped in the street to create a blockade for the protesters. Speaking from the truck bed, activists railed against the Hillary Clinton campaign, called for an end to the deportations of immigrants, and roused chants of “black lives matter.”
“Black people, right now, are leading the way when it comes to making the police accountable,” said an activist who spoke from the truck and identified himself as Mexican-American.
Ramil Carr, a Philadelphia resident and activist with the local Concerned Citizens of Point Breeze, told the Daily Dot that the issues being raised were all related and rooted in shared experiences.
“Not only are we getting killed, but we’re getting pushed out of our communities,” said Carr, speaking of creeping gentrification in Philadelphia. “From 2010 to this year, about 8,000 families have been moved out because they can’t afford to live there because [developers] are building condos.”
A brief clash between protesters broke out after a white man with a Bernie sign poured water over a “F**k the Police” message that a black 12-year-old boy had drawn in chalk—an incident that frustrated older black activists who witnessed it and confronted the man.
The Daily Dot spoke to the child, whose first name was Su’kai and who had written the chalk message before it was destroyed.
“Somebody just poured water on my chalk,” said Su’kai. “And like, I don’t think all cops are bad. But most of them are. Nobody should be killed—all lives matter. Not just black, not just Caucasian, all lives matter.”
Police presence at the protest was stunning, with hundreds of officers stationed on bicycles on all four sides of the rally that looked to be about 500 people. Police helicopters circled overhead, and countless police vehicles—from squad cars to arrest vans to counterterrorism units and ambulances—laid in wait in an area covering a roughly five-block radius in each direction.
When the rally broke into a march down Broad Street at around 7:30pm, it was followed by a line of police vehicles as far as the eye could see—a stark contrast to earlier Sanders-focused marches that drew a dozen or so officers on bicycles.
Carr noted the high police presence, and he also remarked on some of the defensive comments that some white Americans have made about the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I think they’re scared, because of the misconceptions,” Carr told the Daily Dot. “But what we’re saying isn’t that black lives matter more, it’s that we matter equally to everyone. We’re just saying we need equality.”
But the rally wasn’t all tension; a portion of the crowd was made up of people there simply to offer support for the activists.
Among green-hatted legal aid observers and volunteers carrying armloads of water bottles to hand out, there was a converted camper adorned with signs offering “Free Tea.” The van’s creator and primary occupant, Guisepi, told the Daily Dot he’s lived in the vehicle for 10 years. It runs on vegetable oil, he said, with an intricate inner apartment built from recycled scrap materials.
Guisepi’s travels, fueled by a desire to live free of financial transactions and show that “relationships are the truest currency,” are documented on his blog freeteaparty.org. The bus, and its gifts of tea to passersby, has been featured in the New York Times and the Texas Standard.
Parked next to the tea van, smack in the middle of the road, were two “relief” vehicles set aside for elderly and disabled rally attendees. Both looked like rented cargo vans. Each was full of occupants who needed a place to sit and rest or for those who needed to cool off in the air conditioning. The vehicles also served those who simply weren’t physically able to stand or walk.
A vision-impaired woman climbing out of a relief van, white cane in hand, told the Daily Dot that the vans had been driving alongside multiple protests that day and that relief vans are a frequent appearance at Black Lives Matter rallies in Philadelphia and Baltimore.
“In New York City, we have medics, but we don’t have relief vehicles. And that’s something I’m trying to encourage there,” said Terrea Mitchell, an organizer with the People’s Power Assembly in New York.
Mary Emily O'Hara is an LGBTQ reporter. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, NBC Out, Daily Dot, Broadly, Vice, the Daily Beast, the Advocate, Huffington Post, DNAinfo, Al Jazeera, and Portland's Pulitzer Prize-winning newsweekly Willamette Week, among other outlets.