About 200 people marched and prayed in Center City on Saturday, the latest in weeks of demonstrations sparked by the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and other black men at the hands of police.
And though the protest at City Hall and LOVE Park echoed previous rallies - chants of "I can't breathe," signs declaring "Black lives matter!" and a "die-in" symbolizing lives cut short - a religious aspect ran through the event. It was organized by Muslims and began and ended with prayers.
"It's part of black American Muslim tradition to stand for social justice. We need only go back a few decades to Malcolm X . . . and being a part of leading civil disobedience back in the late '50s and into the '60s," said Dash Brookins, 43, who led the call to prayer at the start of the rally.
It began at noon, as the funeral for Rafael Ramos, one of two New York City police officers killed Dec. 20, was winding down in New York. Rally leaders decried those killings and said demonstrators were focused on improving policing practices and police-community relations, not on protesting against police per se.
Imam Abdul Malik, who delivered an impassioned call for community empowerment in taking charge of education and economic development, called the New York killings evil.
"We have to recognize that life is sacred in all of its forms, and that killing men and women in uniform is a crime, it's unacceptable, and it's evil. And shooting unarmed civilians . . . is also unacceptable, and evil, unless it's justifiable, and that's, of course, in the sense of self-defense," Malik said in an interview. "I'm not for putting the police against the people and the people against the police. We're all one people."
Kameelah Rashad, who helped organize the event, said black Muslims in America had a tradition of activism in part because they face bias on several fronts - "For some of us that may not be easily identifiable as Muslims, we are still profiled racially."
One of the speakers and organizers, Donna Auston, a Ph.D. student at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, said the message was that "every human being on the face of the earth has the right to life. Including black people, including black men, including black women, including black children. . . . They have the right not to be shot down."
The marchers wound three times around City Hall and concluded with a "die-in" on the plaza of the Municipal Services Building. The rally went off without incident, with dozens of police on hand - bicycle officers in bright yellow jackets clearing the way for the march as officers from the Civil Affairs Unit stood by.
On Twitter, the Philadelphia Police Department posted photos from the event. "A diverse group of citizens gather as PPD leaders and officers stand by during this peaceful demonstration," one tweet read. Police estimated the crowd at 200.
Rashad, founder of the Muslim Wellness Foundation in Philadelphia, organized the protest with the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, and United Muslim Masjid, a mosque in South Philadelphia.