Philadelphia police arrested 15 people associated with Occupy Philadelphia on Sunday after blocking Eighth Street near Race Street just outside Police Headquarters.
The sit-in began about 17 hours earlier as a protest march against police brutality nationwide.
They were the first arrests since the movement began in the first week of October. Occupy Philadelphia, part of a larger national protest, is a grassroots demonstration against Wall Street and corporate greed that has taken on other issues, such as police brutality.
The arrests were made peacefully, and the Police Department’s handling of the matter even brought praise from an Occupy Philadelphia organizer.
“This went off really well. The Police Department really showed the rest of the world, specifically New York, how to handle protesters,” said Julia Alford-Fowler, an Occupy Philadelphia organizer in its legal working group. “And I think they should be commended for being peaceful.”
Alford-Fowler, 33, a doctoral student at Temple University and instructor at Delaware County Community College, said participants began the march from City Hall Saturday afternoon and wound up near Police Headquarters. When some people sat in the street, a police captain warned them they could be arrested, she said.
Some members of the group decided they were willing to take that chance and slept in the street, holding their ground. By late Sunday morning, dozens of police officers – many trained in civil disobedience – began showing up. Police blocked off Eighth Street between Race and Cherry and called on Larry Krasner, a lawyer, to communicate with the group.
The protesters sat with arms linked, many wearing scarves over their faces. They said they would move if police issued an apology to them in front of cameras.
Most of the protesters were in their 20s, some of them recently unemployed, some recent college graduates. Several said they had been wrongly arrested or had their rights violated by police locally and elsewhere.
“We’re taught in school this is the land of the free,” though many are incarcerated in the United States, said Bri Barton, 22, a recent graduate of Moore College of Art and Design. “I want people to stop dying because of this country.”
Matthew Goodsell, 25, of Philadelphia, a recently unemployed floor installer, said he had been wrongfully arrested twice, including once for underage drinking.
“I don’t believe the police when they say they’re here to protect and serve because of my personal experience,” he said.
Others who complained of bad experiences with police and who were among those arrested included: Christopher Janney, 31, a laid-off forklift operator from Philadelphia; Kayla Wandishin, 20, a student at the Art Institute of Philadelphia; and Deborah Vonberg, 24, of Levittown.
Krasner told the group that for their safety they should remove all bottles, liquids, penknives, and other objects from their pockets.
He said officers would “disengage” their arms, and they could choose to walk or be carried.
“They do not want to use force on you,” Krasner said.
About a dozen officers on bicycles surrounded the protesters, creating a blockaded circle with their bikes. Other officers on foot created a second ring around the group.
Police issued three warnings, then began to remove the protesters, one by one, to be arrested. Some were carried; some walked. They were charged with obstructing a highway.
A few dozen supporters and onlookers gathered to watch and at times chanted in support. “This is reality. Stop police brutality,” they chanted.
Each of those arrested faced misdemeanor obstruction charges. A police spokeswoman said the demonstrators were being processed and it wasn’t clear when they would be released.
By late Sunday night, a dozen or so demonstrators were camped on the sidewalk outside Police Headquarters in a show of support, with three officers standing watch from inside the parking lot. Julia Gross, a student speaking for the group, said others planned to come in shifts from the City Hall encampment until the detainees were released, which they hoped would be sometime Monday.
Everett Gillison, the deputy mayor for public safety who last week was also appointed Mayor Nutter’s chief of staff, oversaw the arrests. He said the protesters had been given the option of moving to another spot but had chosen to stay.
“We don’t want to arrest them. We’re doing everything we can not to arrest them, but they cannot stay in the middle of the street,” he said. “It is a public safety issue.”
Richard Negrin, the city’s managing director who also stood by during the arrests, said the protesters were jeopardizing the good relationship Occupy Philadelphia had fostered with city police since the movement started.
“This hurts their cause,” he said, noting that the effort was using up police manpower and costing the city money. “This has nothing to do with economic justice. They need to stop this. This is their first black eye.”
By Susan Snyder
Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer