Ferguson protests continue in Philly; 2 released from custody

1125_FergPhilly2_600
Protesters on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014, outside a police station in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Several hundred demonstrators flooded a central Philadelphia thoroughfare at evening rush hour Tuesday and snaked through city streets for several hours in protest of a Missouri grand jury's decision not to indict a white police officer for shooting to death an unarmed black man.

Marchers filed up four-lane North Broad Street from City Hall, stopped at Temple University, then headed to the Ninth District police station in Franklintown, capping a day of demonstrations across the region reflecting nationwide unease over Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson's fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9 in the predominantly black St. Louis suburb.

Hundreds of Philadelphia police officers on bicycles, on horseback, and in squad cars accompanied the hordes as they walked - as much as five miles - and chanted, passionately but peacefully, beneath the roar of news and police helicopters overhead.

The march began to wind down around 10 p.m. in Rittenhouse Square.

Paul-Winston Cange, 21, of Bensalem, said the march was "beyond what I expected. . . . It was beautiful." He said the group planned to gather in West Philadelphia to decide on its next steps.

"I'm really optimistic about what we can achieve," Cange said.

He said the message protesters were trying to send was: "No longer are we going to take this kind of brutality without standing up."

Earlier in the day, several demonstrators hoisted a cardboard coffin while others carried a larger-than-life portrait of Brown, who was shot during an apparent scuffle with Wilson.

"A lot of our kids feel abandoned and broken," Eric Barnes, 47, said of youths he counsels as a juvenile probation officer. The grand jury's decision was on his mind when Barnes decided to join the City Hall demonstration.

"I don't know what to tell them," he said of the teenagers with whom he works. "I've been trying not to cry since I heard."

The mixed-race crowd of several hundred that descended on City Hall around 3:30 p.m. swelled to a peak of about 500 when it reached the Temple campus an hour later, joining with hundreds of residents and students who had gathered there.

"We all are Mike Brown," said the Rev. Gregory Holston, a member of the interfaith group Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild, his shouts drawing fierce applause.

"We are Mike Brown at school," Holston continued in a rousing, sermon-like tone. "We are Mike Brown on the subway. We are Mike Brown all the time."

A contingent of nearly 200 students from Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania marched with red paint and hand prints on their cheeks to symbolize how they viewed the grand jury's inaction.

"It's a huge smack in the face and a disservice to the people of our country," said Winfred Rembert, 19, a sophomore psychology major at Penn.

Around 7:30 p.m., the crowd planted itself outside the Ninth District station at 21st and Hamilton Streets, near the Barnes Foundation museum, where organizers said they would remain until two protesters arrested the night before were freed from custody.

The two - Naveed Ahsan, 22, of Florida, and Felix Nnunulo, 23, of Northeast Philadelphia - were released a little before 9 p.m. and left the Ninth District building to raucous cheers. Both men had been charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing the highway after trying to enter I-95, according to Police Capt. Stephen Glenn.

"I'm really overwhelmed by this response," Nnunulo said.

The crowd, numbering about 100, then began marching back toward City Hall. Accompanied by chants and drumbeats, the marchers kept going west, reaching Rittenhouse Square about 9:30.

There were no reported arrests or clashes with authorities at demonstrations across the region Tuesday, where groups assembled in somber reflection of what they saw as a justice system gone wrong.

"We are gathered here in grief and heartbreak . . . but also hope and courage, because we will not tolerate it," said Rabbi Julie Greenberg, among a dozen community leaders protesting around noon at the federal courthouse at Sixth and Market Streets.

She and others called for a shopping boycott in 100 cities nationwide starting on Black Friday, decrying what they saw as an unacceptable failure of the legal system.

"We have to send a message that if this country won't provide us justice through the judicial system, then we want to send a message by sitting on our purses and sitting on our wallets and not supporting business," said Paula Peebles, a leader of the National Action Network's Philadelphia chapter.

Across the river in South Jersey, a handful of residents and members of the local religious community prayed for peace at the federal courthouse on Cooper Street in Camden.

"There's a dark cloud over Camden right now," said Ronsha Dickerson, a 37-year-old mother of a college-bound black teenager whose safety she said she feared may always be in jeopardy. "There's a billion Fergusons in America, and if we want things to change, we have to do work in the community."

The Rev. Tim Merrill, a member of the Concerned Black Clergy of Camden, decried the nation's legacy of racial conflict.

"America could have been this shining beacon of true equality, of shared blessings," he said. "Instead, we settled on slavery. And the African American man has a target on his back because of the condition of this country."

About 75 people from the Unitarian Universalist Church in Cherry Hill marched for an hour Tuesday evening on both sides of Kings Highway North.

"This was the right thing to do," said Jeff Mishra-Marzetti, 44, of Cherry Hill, who was cradling his 3-year old adopted son, Jacen, who is African American. "I'm supporting my son and hoping when he grows up, he will be cautious and realize he won't always be treated the same way as his friends in school."

At West Chester University, more than 100 students gathered around a campus statue of Frederick Douglass to share their feelings about Ferguson.

Junior Byron Cooper described a stigma he feels for being black, despite being an ambitious undergraduate and self-described scholar-athlete.

"I'm a thug no matter where I go," Cooper said. "Playing sports, I'm a thug. In class, I'm considered a thug."

Kelsey Hunter, a white senior, was overcome with emotion. "I don't want to raise my kids in a world like this," she said, her eyes filling with tears.

 


jterruso@phillynews.com 856-779-3876 @juliaterruso

Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Justine McDaniel, Chris Palmer, Suzette Parmley, and Allison Steele.