Activist Asa Khalif avoids sentence, but faces scrutiny from racial-justice groups

Local Black Lives Matter activist Asa Khalif (left), stands inside the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce on Sunday, and over a bullhorn, demands the firing of the manager that called police, that resulted in two black men being arrested.

Asa Khalif, an ever-present local activist, was in court on trespassing and harassment charges Wednesday, the same day two prominent racial-justice groups released a statement labeling him “a detriment to local Black organizing.”

The court appearance stemmed from his November arrest after a loud and profane protest he staged at the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office in Center City over a police-involved shooting that the office had been investigating.

Instead of proceeding to trial, Khalif will be admitted into Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, a diversionary court program for nonviolent offenders. He had been charged under the name Earl Pittman, 47, with misdemeanor offenses of institutional vandalism, defiant trespass, harassment, and disorderly conduct.

Municipal Court Judge Sharon Williams-Losier assigned him to non-reporting probation for one year. If he completes the program, he will have his arrest record expunged.

“I thank God,” Khalif said Thursday. “I give him all the praise and the honor.”

But acrimony toward Khalif from some fellow activists continues to simmer.

“Asa Khalif is a major problem in the Philadelphia activist community,” read a joint release from the Black and Brown Workers Cooperative and Philly for REAL Justice. “He has proven to be an opportunist, an informant and a farcical ambulance chasing joke. Activists and community members have labored too long and too hard to allow someone like Asa to continue to operate unchecked.”

The statement goes on to accuse Khalif of conspiring with the police, taking credit for other organizers’ successes, and mistreating groups with women and LGBTQ leadership, among other grievances.

Reached by phone Thursday, he said he hadn’t read the release. “I needed to decompress myself spiritually” after his court date, he explained. After reading the statement, Khalif declined to respond to the criticism, and wrote a statement of his own.

It read: “Just to reiterate. The problems facing black, brown and poor people are greater than one person or group. As I have stated before I will not participate in these destructive discussions that are counterproductive. Let’s put aside egos and create a choir of voices united in the battle for change.”

In the past, Khalif has worked alongside demonstrators from both groups. But the Black and Brown Workers Cooperative decided to cut ties with him, according to Shani Akilah, an organizer with the cooperative, after hearing him call police officers homophobic slurs at protests.

Deandra Jefferson, an organizer with Philly for REAL Justice, said Khalif has publicly misrepresented that group’s goals. Khalif has stated that Black Lives Matter is “not antipolice” and supports body cameras, she noted. But Philly for REAL Justice actually is antipolice, Jefferson explained, and confusion on the matter threatens to stifle their aims for a community-led model of keeping the peace.

Khalif has become one of the most quoted demonstrators on racial justice in Philadelphia. Along the way, local activists were rankled, arguing that a media-savvy Khalif was consistently given a platform by reporters who assumed he represented all protesters. Khalif later clarified that he spoke for Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania, rather than the official chapter of the national organization, Black Lives Matter Philadelphia.

In September, Khalif told the Inquirer and Daily News that Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania had 75 members. Regularly at protests, Khalif can be seen working with a small group of peers. He declined to share his group’s current numbers, but noted that their name has been changed to the Coalition for Black Lives.

He became the face of the Starbucks protest this week after an Inquirer and Daily News photograph of him addressing the crowd with a bullhorn went viral. Akilah said their groups began planning the statement before the arrests of two black men in a Center City Starbucks who were waiting to meet a business partner. “Frankly, we’ve been trying to get this statement [written] for a very long time.”