Protesters disrupt City Council meeting, get hauled out

Black Lives Matter activists and sheriff’s deputies gather before the Council session began.

Police hauled at least a half-dozen protesters out of Philadelphia City Council chambers Thursday after they disrupted the meeting with demands for black community oversight of the Police Department.

Another group of activists called for the arrest of an officer who fatally shot a man in North Philadelphia in June and warned they might protest outside the police union president’s house.

“You are being … used, Clarke,” Rasheed Holmes, 32, of the city’s Germantown section, shouted at Council President Darrell Clarke.

Holmes and others said they wouldn’t leave Council chambers until a member agreed to sponsor legislation establishing a black community oversight board of the Police Department.

Clarke did not respond to the activists’ demands. A scrum ensued, and police escorted them out of the building after they refused to let Council business proceed. One woman was carried out of Council’s chambers.

Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams, in a sport coat with a badge hanging around his neck, was in the thick of the protests in Council’s chambers, talking to people before they were hauled out.

Clarke on Thursday began a legislative process that, if approved by voters next year, would permanently increase the funding for the Police Advisory Commission, the city’s civilian oversight board. The board had been plagued over the past year by scandal and turmoil, but recently announced a new executive director and new board members.

Clarke told reporters he wanted to ensure the commission had “teeth, is meaningful, and has the appropriate resources.”

Some activists — including Asa Khalif, head of Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania — called for Officer Ryan Pownall to be charged with murder in the fatal shooting of David Jones, who was shot in the back while fleeing from a traffic stop in June. Police Commissioner Richard Ross has said Pownall would be fired.

The whole episode began peacefully, when Carnell Williams-Carney, 37, addressed Council during its public comment period.

In a wheelchair, Williams-Carney told Council how he, too, had been shot in the back while running from the same police officer who shot Jones.

Williams-Carney, who was shot in July 2010 in Frankford, was paralyzed and jailed for illegally carrying a gun. He had tossed his gun away as police chased him, but Pownall later testified he didn’t know that.

Williams-Carney told Council on Thursday that he wanted police officers to get better training. “If I’m an immediate threat,” he asked, “how would I be shot in the back?”

After he and Khalif left Council chambers, a separate group of activists, including members of the Black is Black Coalition, began issuing demands to Council.

They accused Council of failing to take the issue of police brutality against African Americans seriously.

Among them was Wali Rahman, an independent candidate for mayor in 2011 who was accused in August of spray-painting “Black Power” on the statue of former Mayor Frank Rizzo across the street from City Hall.  Rahman, who goes by Diop Olugbala, addressed Council and then was wrestled out of the room by sheriff’s deputies after he refused to leave.

“You’re not allowed to stop the ability of the legislative body to do the government’s business,” Clarke told reporters after the session.

But he acknowledged some people “don’t feel that there’s the appropriate oversight, they don’t think they have a voice in terms of things they see that are not right.”

“We gotta figure out a way to close this gap between police-community relationship,” Clarke said.

A small group of protesters has consistently staged demonstrations since Jones was shot in June. The group, typically led by activists Khalif and Isaac Gardner, has protested in city offices, at press conferences, and outside Pownall’s home in Bustleton. The latter incident led the police union to sue the city in an attempt to prevent the police department from releasing the names of officers who shoot people.

Even after Pownall was fired last week, Khalif and Gardner immediately demonstrated outside Police Headquarters, saying they would not stop protesting until Pownall was arrested. The Attorney General’s Office is investigating whether the former officer’s conduct was criminal.

Earlier in the Council meeting, Black Lives Matter activists lambasted John McNesby, the police union president, for calling them “rabid animals” for their protest tactics.

Camera icon Andrew Seidman / Staff
Isaac Gardner said he and other activists might protest outside the police union president’s house.

“Nobody stepped up to say nothing,” said Gardner, pointing to black members of Council.

Gardner, who wore a T-shirt that read “Rabid Animal,” told reporters: “We want a public apology from John McNesby. Or we might show up at your house.”

McNesby didn’t return a message seeking comment.

Staff writer Chris Palmer contributed to this story.