About 500 people gathered on Main Campus at the intersection of Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue around 4 p.m. Tuesday to protest a grand jury’s Monday decision not to charge Ofc. Darren Wilson with a crime in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Most of the 500 had marched from City Hall to join the remainder at the intersection, where members of various activist and faith-based groups gave speeches and led chants relating to the grand jury’s decision and other issues like gentrification.
Senior African American studies major Kashara White took to a megaphone to speak to the earlier crowd, which congregated on Broad Street in front of Morgan Hall.
“We deserve peace and prosperity as human beings,” White said. “We’re going to work for that. It’s time to work,” she added before gesturing to the approaching crowd from the south.
About 80 police officers, mostly Philadelphia police on bicycles, were at the intersection. Eleven Philadelphia police on horseback formed a barrier across Cecil B. Moore Avenue on the east side of Broad Street. Temple Police were there as well, observing the protest and assisting with diverting traffic.
“We always have cops out in case of any marches,” Philadelphia Police Department Public Affairs Ofc. Christine O’Brien said when asked about the police presence. “No matter what the cause is, we want [protesters] to be safe.”
Once the throng from City Hall mixed with the group already on Main Campus, police blocked off Broad Street at Oxford Street and again at Montgomery Street.
During the round of speeches, Rev. Gregory Holston, pastor for New Vision United Methodist Church on Broad and Westmoreland streets, said he believed the Ferguson decision ought to be addressed “all over the country.”
“We’ve got to organize,” Holston said. “We’ve got to be able to call this kind of rally at any time.”
While others in the crowd held signs with slogans like “Black Lives Matter,” Jennifer Turnbull and two other members of Spiral Q, a puppet theatre based in West Philadelphia, bore ghostly subjects. Three wraiths, the Scottish word for ghost, were held over the crowd.
Tracy Broyles, the executive director of the theatre who was present at the protest, said the wraiths “bear witness to human suffering.”
“I think that’s definitely appropriate for the situation we’re in today,” Turnbull said.
After more speeches and chants including “no justice, no peace, no racist police,” the group began to march west down Cecil B. Moore Avenue around 5:15 p.m. About 20 police officers on bicycles stayed a block ahead of the crowd, blocking off the street from eastbound incoming traffic while other police blocked arterial streets from traffic to let the protesters through.
After turning down 20th Street from Cecil B. Moore Avenue, the group made its way to the 9th police precinct on 21st and Hamilton streets, to wait for the release of two protesters who arrested during Monday night’s march. The two were charged with misdemeanors of disorderly conduct and obstructing a highway after trying to take the protest to I-95, police said.
Police formed a border outside the precinct which consisted of officers and bicycles. Many stood with their arms folded while the protesters outlined their demands via megaphone, including body cameras for police officers and a Department of Justice investigation into Brown’s shooting.
Senior political science major Felix Nnumolu, one of the two held in the precinct, said his court date was Dec. 2 but declined to detail what led up to his arrest until after that date. He said he was following what he thought was part of the protest plan. Nnumolu said he was in a cell with another protester, Naveed Ahsan, for about 17 hours.
The cells in the basement of the precinct building had other tenants, but most were alone, Nnumolu said. He slept on a metal bench and fed on cheese sandwiches and water before his release.
“It was really a pretty lonely experience,” Nnumolu said.
Nnumolu said a PPD official escorted the two of them out of the building, telling them to go through the line of bikes lined up and walk into the crowd.
“I didn’t know what we were going out into,” Nnumolu said. “I was just thinking, ‘what crowd?'” The two were greeted with cheers after their release.
“I thought I’d go home, eat because I was still hungry and take a shower,” Nnumolu said. “We didn’t know they’d be waiting outside.”
Senior social studies education major Walter Smolarek, a member of the North Philadelphia activist group People Utilizing Real Power, said PURP had prepared protests after various outlets reported that an indictment was unlikely for Ofc. Wilson.
“We were getting ready so that people could take their outreach to the streets,” Smolarek said. “The anticipation was very high.”
While some fans were concerned about the protest affecting travel to the men’s basketball game against Penn scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, the protesters cleared out in time. A spokesman told The Temple News that fans were advised to take alternate routes. He also noted that the Montgomery Avenue Garage would be available for parking if the Liacouras Garage was difficult to access.
Charlie Leone, executive director of Campus Safety Services, said Temple Police escorted Penn’s team into the Liacouras Center. Since the game was taking place over fall break, lesser attendance was expected, he said.
The shooting, deliberations and final decision not to indict sparked protest in Ferguson and other cities across the country about the proceedings themselves and race relations in general. Protests in Philadelphia began Monday after St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch announced the decision in a 20-minute speech that questioned the stories of the eight eyewitnesses.
According to The New York Times’ comprehensive account of the incident, Wilson, a white police officer, shot Brown, an African-American teenager, on Aug. 9. Some witnesses said Brown, who was caught on surveillance footage taking some cigarillos from a corner store, was trying to surrender to Wilson, who saw Brown fit the description released about a convenience store theft. The description from some witnesses that Brown had his hands in the air when Wilson shot him is the inspiration for the protesters’ chant “hands up, don’t shoot.”
Wilson said in a four-hour testimony that Brown charged at him and tried to fight for his gun in an altercation at the officer’s vehicle. In total, he fired 10 rounds, though it is unclear if all of them hit Brown. All court documents including photographs, witness statements, grand jury meeting transcripts and forensic reports are all available for viewing on The New York Times’ site.
As of Wednesday, protesters were beginning to thin out in Ferguson.
Joe Brandt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBrandt_TU.