Black Lives Matter protesters shut down City Hall news conference

Asa Khalif (left) of Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania and Isaac Gardner (right) of the Justice for David Jones Coalition interrupt a news conference by Philadelphia Council President Darrell L. Clarke at City Hall.

A group of Black Lives Matter protesters shut down a news conference to announce a new city anti-litter initiative Monday morning, interrupting a presentation by Mayor Kenney and Council President Darrell L. Clarke in City Hall.

As Clarke spoke about the need to change the culture of littering in Philadelphia, Asa Khalif of Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania and Isaac Gardner of the Justice for David Jones Coalition stormed into the Mayor’s Reception Room, demanding that Clarke publicly acknowledge David Jones, who was fatally shot in the back by Philadelphia Police Officer Ryan Powell.

“This is a history and a pattern of abuse from the 15th District law enforcement, right here in Philadelphia, and no one is saying anything,”  Khalif said during the interruption. “This is an outrage that this officer is allowed to be back on the force.”

As is routine, Powell was restricted to desk duty pending the outcome of investigations by District Attorney’s Office and the Police Department into the shooting.

Although the mayor and  Managing Director Michael DiBerardinis were both present, protesters were mainly looking for a response from Clarke, who they said had been silent on the issue. During a heated exchange, Clarke said, “I do have problems with possibly inappropriate shootings by police officers. I also have problems with the more than 300 people who get killed every year.” He was referring to all fatal shootings in the city.

He and other city officials left the room shortly after, the news conference about the Zero Waste and Litter Action Plan over.

Before he left, Clarke told protesters the investigation into the death of Jones had been referred to the Pennsylvania attorney general. Cameron Kline, spokesman for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, and Joe Grace, spokesman for the Office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro, confirmed that due to a conflict of interest in the District Attorney’s Office, the investigation had been referred to the attorney general.

“We will conduct a careful and thorough review of the facts and the law, and make a determination based on the evidence,” Grace said in a  statement. Kline declined to comment on the nature of the conflict.

Lauren Hitt, Mayor Kenney’s spokeswoman, said the Police Department’s probe into the shooting would continue despite the changes made known Monday.

“We appreciate the AG’s investigation into this matter. The Independent Shooting Unit will proceed separately with their investigation, and we expect that process to conclude within four weeks,” Hitt said in an email.

Hours after the news conference, Clarke’s office issued a statement, offering condolences on behalf of City Council. “People knew this man, loved this man, and had hopes for his future. His death and the weeks following have been painful for all parties involved,” he said. “The pain being felt by Mr. Jones’ loved ones must be honored and respected, no matter the outcome of this investigation.”

Black Lives Matter protesters said they had shut down several other events in the last three weeks. Hitt said that protesters had interrupted a few of the mayor’s events and that Kenney respected their First Amendment right to do so.

Khalif and Gardner said they planned more interruptions for this week.

“We’re going to do this because we have no other choice, because there has been no transparency whatsoever,”  Khalif said after the protest.