Live From Occupy ICE Philadelphia as Police Brutality Forces Move to Occupying City Hall
The Occupy I.C.E. protests occurring in cities throughout America have all garnered significant media attention, and the protests in Portland have been particularly successful in limiting the ability of I.C.E. agents to follow through with their program of mass deportations within the city.
However, of all the actions taking place around the country, few have been more eventful and polarizing than Occupy I.C.E. Philadelphia. Last night Occupy I.C.E. Philadelphia moved its center of operations from outside the I.C.E. office in Philadelphia at the corner of 8th and Cherry streets to a new encampment occupying City Hall.
In order to truly understand this turn of events, and what it means for the movement in Philadelphia and as a whole, it is crucial to know everything that happened in the days leading up to the move and recognize the factors, both positive and negative, that made it nearly impossible for demonstrators to continue to operate as they had been for the rest of the week.
The most obvious reason for the need to move locations was increased police presence in the area and the fact that as police forces had encroached on and raided the encampment since Tuesday they put protesters in an extremely precarious position. By the time the decision was made to move to City Hall massive amounts of Philadelphia police had cordoned demonstrators into a small blocked off area of Cherry Street that could have been completely encircled by police at any moment, leaving those inside the camp with no option of escape.
People who were at the gathering last night could easily tell that was exactly what the police had in mind: the area behind the encampment was filled with over twenty police cruises and paddy wagons, and the staggering number of ominous and dangerous looking strike team units added to the threat of impending violence. Given that police officers have routinely brutalized and assaulted peaceful protesters numerous times over the week, this was a very real and pressing concern.
Their fears were not irrational, for in addition to arresting 29 people at the protest on Tuesday, on Thursday police officers raided the camp without warning from the back while organizers attempted to negotiate an agreement with law enforcement officials at the back of the camp.
A spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department, Captain Sekou Kinebrew, told reporters “I know warnings were given and also know that nobody was injured during the raid.” However, anyone who was at the scene knows this could not be farther from the truth. Police had given notice that protesters could not block the doors of the I.C.E. office and had to move some coolers and other items off of the sidewalk.
As organizers and protests marshals attempted to discuss a strategy for doing so with law enforcement officials other police officers took advantage of the distraction to break through the back of the camp with bikes and horses, night-sticking young women and children to the ground while using their bikes to ram through lines of protesters. Given that many of the individuals present at the protest were children, wheelchair-bound individuals, and college-age females, the police’s action was completely unnecessary and put the well-being of many innocent and at-risk individuals in jeopardy.
Further, for the police to claim that nobody was injured is a blatant falsehood, as there is widely available photographic evidence of police assaulting young women during the raid of the campsite Thursday.
One organizer described the hellish scene as the police violently broke through lines of protesters sitting on the ground and began attacking them left and right. “They came through with bikes, and after using the bikes to break through the lines and knock us over, they just kept hitting me over and over again in the back. I lost my glasses and begged for permission to retrieve them, but the only response I got was a nightstick to the ribs. After I was arrested and handcuffed the arresting officer choked me and asked me ‘How does that feel, pussy?!’ before shoving me in the paddy wagon.”
Sign from the new encampment at City Hall/ photo credit: Will Bacha
The other primary factor which caused protesters to leave the location outside of the I.C.E. office and move to City Hall stems from the tribalism and infighting between different ideological groups who were running the show and those who felt that their ideas and concerns were not being taken seriously.
One of the biggest problems facing movements like Occupy I.C.E. in America today is the inability of different organizations to band together and address important issues without succumbing to squabbling over finer ideological points. This has kept the movement from reaching its full potential, and the hope was the move to City Hall would help to remedy this.
Many people of color who had been among the original organizers of the occupation lamented that many of the organizations representing immigrants and people of color had been pushed out of leadership roles as a result of a consolidation of power by larger political groups. This was another major factor in the decision to relocate to City Hall, as many of the immigrant rights groups who had been supporting the occupation began to have doubts about the efficacy of remaining in their current position.
The struggles with leadership capacity were apparent in the fact that explicit tactics and instructions were broadcast over a large megaphone well within earshot of the many police officers swarming the area. This, of course, alerted the police to the exact specifics of the protesters’ movements and plans and gave them more than enough time to respond.
The original plan to move to City Hall had been spread among the encampment discreetly by word of mouth so that the occupation could gradually move to City Hall before the police realized what was going on. Unfortunately for the protestors, in an attempt to organize everybody more efficiently, someone announced the plan to move to City Hall over the megaphone, and by the time protesters began arriving there the police were already waiting.