When news of Donald Trump’s visit to Philadelphia to meet with African-American leaders in the community reached activist groups like the Philadelphia Coalition for REAL Justice Thursday night, they immediately began organizing.
The group posted a “Trump Out of Philly” event to its Facebook page at about 7 p.m. Thursday — the night before the Republican presidential candidate was scheduled to arrive in the city.
Less than 24 hours after the post, more than 50 protesters gathered at the corner of Broad and Brown streets in response to Trump’s visit.
Trump met with 14 African-American leaders, including James Jones, Calvin Tucker, Renee Amore and Shalga Hightower on Friday. The 2 p.m. meeting was held in The View, an event hall owned by Greater Exodus Baptist Church on Broad Street near Brown. A chain of police officers on bicycles and more than 10 police vehicles secured the area.
A megaphone connected to a speaker was used as an “open mic” and protesters addressed issues like racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia and ableism. Protesters also used the megaphone to lead chants like “Black lives matter,” “not one more deportation” and “no más Trump.”
Jones, who is running as a Republican for the second congressional district, was one of the 14 people in the meeting. He spoke to protesters and reporters after the meeting, addressing criticisms of Trump.
“[The meeting] is not a sham,” he said. “It was a time that we got to meet the Republican presidential candidate and he spoke well, he spoke well to all of us.”
Jones said sound bites can influence perception, especially of some of Trump’s controversial opinions.
“He’s not a racist bigot,” Jones said. “He’s a family man, he’s a Christian man. We all got a chance to pray, we had to talk about some of the issues that are important to all of us.”
Jones said Trump endorsed a plan which aims to bring 5,000 jobs to Philadelphia, but gave no further details.
“He’s planning to bring in jobs back into the community and to help address high levels of unemployment,” he added. “We didn’t set a blueprint.”
“[Trump] thinks his money can buy his way into the African-American community,” said Paula Peebles, Philadelphia chapter founder of the National Action Network, Rev. Al Sharpton’s civil rights group. “Trump is not welcome [in North Philadelphia].”
Peebles said she doesn’t believe Trump’s bid for African-American votes in the city will be successful.
“He’s a small man,” Peebles told The Temple News after her speech on the megaphone. “He’s a coward. … We will not fall for [pandering.]”
The front line of protesters held banners, including one with a brick print reading “Wall Off Trump.” Other protesters milled throughout the crowd, holding signs and posters with slogans like “Slavery made America great,” “White Silence = Consent” and “Never Trump.”
Several protesters represented Juntos, a community-led immigrants’ rights organization based in South Philadelphia. According to its website, Juntos primarily represents the Latinx communities of Philadelphia.
Erika Almiron, Juntos’ executive director, said she has concerns about “Trump’s racist rhetoric.”
“His speech a couple of days ago really showed how he likes to criminalize our whole community,” she said. “We have families here, we have loved ones here. … You can’t ever tell somebody’s immigration [status] just by looking at them, so at the end of the day, it’s really about blanketly putting racism on all black and brown people.”
Michael Wilson, a 1985 political science alumnus and steering committee member for the Philly Coalition for REAL Justice, said the protest was organized less than 24 hours before it started, and Juntos was contacted in the first hour of the organization process.
Wilson added Juntos’ participation and solidarity was a vital part of the protest.
“It was very important that Donald Trump see the day that the Black Lives Matter community here in Philadelphia is very much in alliance with the immigrant community,” he said. “Our fight is their fight and their fight is our fight. … It takes a lot of unity out here to really change things.”
An altercation broke out when a protester tried to grab a Trump supporter’s poster which read, “I love walls.”
Gerald Lambert, a lifelong Democrat who was holding the poster, said he “likes Trump’s honesty.” He added that Trump can “make America safer again by weeding out the bad apples” as well as improve the economy because “he knows business.”
Lambert, a 1967 alumnus of economics and business, recently registered as a Republican.
“I like to stand up for the First Amendment and my rights as a free person,” Lambert added. “I don’t think Americans appreciate the First Amendment. I don’t think they take advantage of it.”
U.S. Navy veteran Sean Ciccarone also stood across the street, his arms folded behind a black T-shirt that read, “Veterans Against Trump.”
“I am deeply and personally offended by a lot of the remarks that Donald Trump has said about veterans and the military in and of itself,” he said.
Ciccarone said he was raised with Democratic beliefs, but his political perspective shifted during his five years in the Navy from 1998-2003.
“The military does a really good job of changing your viewpoints of the world and making you turn a little bit more conservative, makes you believe that the Republican party does more for its service members,” he said. “But once you get out and you get a little more enlightened, you realize that’s not true, because neither party has done anything for veterans or its service members for the last 40 years.”
Other protesters expressed concern with the candidates of both political parties.
Cornelius Moody, a 2016 neuroscience alumn and organizer with REAL Justice, said Hillary Clinton doesn’t focus on issues like raising the minimum wage, reforming voting rights acts or international policies.
“There are some third party candidates that I think are much more representative,” he said. “I think that the major issue, especially at the level of presidency is that it’s very difficult to get media attention and get momentum to actually be elected, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re better candidates. … I understand that this political system doesn’t allow my views to be represented on a large scale because it doesn’t include [them].”
Lian Parsons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Evan Easterling contributed reporting.