For Black Lives Matter activists, Eagles' celebrations show policing 'double standard'

City workers clean up traffic lights damaged in the post-victory celebration outside City Hall in Center City, Philadelphia, February 5, 2018.

For Black Lives Matter supporters, the intense and at times destructive celebrations in Philadelphia after the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory Sunday symbolize the disparities in how black and white Americans are treated by police.

“It is nothing new to us that hordes of predominantly white fans setting fires, flipping over cars, and destroying property are viewed as ‘rowdy’ and engaged by police in a nonthreatening manner, while crowds of predominantly black and brown people blocking traffic or even holding candle light vigils to protest state violence against black and brown people are met with scores of hostile police and viewed as ‘violent,’ ” Philadelphia’s branch of Black Lives Matter said in a statement.

Camera icon JOSEPH KACZMAREK / FOR THE INQUIRER
Out of control fans vandalize a planter along N. Broad in St. in Center City Philadelphia early Monday morning January 5, 2018 after the Philadelphia Eagles won Super Bowl LII.

In celebration, some Eagles fans across Philadelphia overturned cars, jumped SEPTA turnstiles, looted a gas station, smashed windows, and broke the awning of the Ritz-Carlton hotel. Philadelphia police arrested only four people that night, but say more arrests are possible, following review of surveillance video and social media.

When the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, 76 fans were arrested during the celebration that followed, and a pair of stores were looted in Center City.

BLM Philly also noted that Monday after the Super Bowl marked what would have been the 23rd birthday of Trayvon Martin, the black teen shot and killed by neighborhood-watch member George Zimmerman in 2014 in Florida. “His murder and the killings of so many of our black and brown siblings have been the catalyst for this new resurgence of resistance in the Movement for Black Lives,” the statement read.

The organization also shared its support for its peer branch in Minneapolis, which shut down some light rail lines used by Super Bowl attendees.

On Twitter, users compared the treatment of Black Lives Matter protesters and Eagles fans.

In a follow-up statement, the Black Lives Matter members said it was a May 21, 2015, incident in North Philadelphia with Philadelphia police that showed the “double standard.”

An Inquirer and Daily News article that day described the event this way: SEPTA officers were in the process of arresting a man who did not pay his fare on the bus at Broad and Oxford Streets when several protesters who happened to be nearby attempted to interfere with police, authorities said. Several of the 25 to 30 protesters were themselves arrested.

According to a Philadelphia chapter of Black Lives Matter spokesperson, “We along with members of Philly for REAL Justice were holding a candle lit vigil for transwomen who had been murdered as well as black women and children who had been killed as a result of state and racial violence, including the victims of lynching.”

The Philadelphia Police Department has relied largely on a hands-off approach when responding to Black Lives Matter marches and demonstrations that have unfolded across the city in recent years. Officers tend to wear bike uniforms instead of riot gear, and trail marchers at a distance instead of trying to restrict their movements.

A dozen demonstrators were arrested in the run-up to the 2016 Democratic National Convention, when they blocked motorists’ access to an I-676 on-ramp, but protests that occurred during a subsequent “Weekend of Rage” — in response to fatal police-involved shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in Minnesota — didn’t feature any arrests.

Police Commissioner Richard Ross explained the department’s approach last week, saying: “After a while you do have to relinquish the street, provided people are being peaceful. You’re going to create more havoc trying to [stop them], and you have to have somewhere for people to go.”

Some praised the department for not making any arrests during the marches that took place during the DNC. However, the American Civil Liberties Union filed several complaints against officers, and activist Asa Khalif said that protesting Bernie Sanders supporters did not face the same “aggression” that the “black resistance march” did. In October 2017,  two demonstrators protesting a national law enforcement event in Philadelphia were arrested and charged with assaulting Philadelphia police officers.

Hawk Newsom, national president of Black Lives Matter told Newsweek, “[I]t seems there’s a line drawn in the sand where destruction of property because of a sports victory is OK and acceptable in America. However, if you have people who are fighting for their most basic human right, the right to live, they will be condemned.”

William Bratton, who served as police chief in Boston, New York City, and Los Angeles during his 45-year career in law enforcement, is no stranger to crazed fan celebrations; eight police officers were injured and at least 20 people were arrested after the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Finals in 2009.

“You try and learn from every event,” Bratton said during an interview last week. “To what extent do you let [fans] celebrate? There’s no hard and fast rule. You have to count on having experienced leadership.”

When the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 2016 — ending a 108-year championship drought — 14 people were arrested and 35 were hospitalized with injuries in the citywide celebrations that followed.

“Any time you have large public gatherings, history shows you something could trigger things one way or another,” said Chicago Deputy Chief Steve Georgas.

The department offered simple instructions to officers who were assigned to crowd control. “We told them: ‘High-five people, but just be aware. Don’t incite anything. Just let it go until it peters out,’ ” Georgas said.

Staff writers David Gambacorta and Chris Palmer contributed to this article.