The Philly Coalition for REAL Justice met again at Philly City Hall on Tuesday, December 15, 2015, to protest the one-year murder of Brandon Tate Brown by Philly police. Philly Focus wrote that the details in Brown’s shooting were “eerily similar to the case of Mr. Laquan McDonald in Chicago, where a white officer – who claimed he feared for his life because the 17 year-old was armed with a 3in[ch] knife though he was walking in the opposite direction – shot the fleeing subject sixteen times.”Philly Focus pointed out: “Mr. McDonald’s story has become widely known. Mr. Brandon Tate-Brown’s, however, has not, despite the story arcs being almost identical: police kill a fleeing African-American; offers a false narrative in a report; evidence, including footage, is covered up and only released because of a lawsuit; and then enters the Department of Justice.”
Speeches were made by several people, including Brown’s mother and her attorney in her case against the state. The attorney listed every lie made by the police and every attempted cover-up by city officials. Reverend Mark Tyler stated at City Hall: “We have a contradiction here, yet the DA refuses to go back and re-examine it and give justice to this family.”
I expected the rally to finish up soon after this because it was announced beforehand that a meeting for the Coalition for REAL Justice would take place that night. But in my surprise, several of the REAL members began leading a march toward Broad. Demonstrators marched in the streets and spent 15 minutes at the D.A. Office chanting, “Fuck the Police.” We were then cut off from Broad while trying to march down that road, but when police accidentally became a little too pushy with the family of Brandon Tate Brown, they felt obligated to let us march down Broad. But the demonstrators were already angry at the cops for already trying to block us from simply marching on Broad.
For the first time ever at a Philly BLM rally, we stopped in front of random stores to make speeches. We first stopped at Tiffany’s where one speech was made. Cops stood in front of the door, leading one activist to point out that the working-class cops should stand with the working-class people, not protect the interests of the elite class.
We then moved onto GAP. At first a police officer stood in the doorway with his bike, but after a few moments the demonstrators pushed their way through the door. Perhaps two dozen of us entered the store and chanted for about two minutes as we “occupied” the business territory, before we left the store (although one annoying cop stood in front of one of the two exit doors, making it difficult for us to leave for no apparent reason).
When we walked out of the GAP, one of the REAL leaders said he knew where we were going next. A minute later we arrived at Apple and entered the store. There must have been at least a dozen customers inside, but they were all respectful and listened to what we had to say. Our next stop was Urban Outfitters. We went up the long stairs, with one woman carrying the Palestine flag, and made speeches inside the dome-shaped roof. Demonstrators denounced the black clothing styles stolen by Urban Outfitters for white people before we walked out the door. The next store was H & M, which we stayed in for less than a minute because hardly anyone was shopping there.
“We warned ya’ll the purge was coming,” Mr. Asa Khalif, a cousin to the Tate-Brown family, shouted to shoppers. “If you hit me, I’m going to hit you back,” Asa said to an officer. He denounced Mayor Nutter for not once speaking about the Brandon Tate Brown case.
We met the most hostility at the next store we went to. This was surprisingly at Devon Seafood Grill. When I first walked in, I joined a handful of protesters at the first counter we approached. They sat down with their signs demanding service, which made me think of the 1960 lunch-counter sit-ins. None were served by the server who stood there in disbelief. I then made my way onto the main floor of the restaurant, where maybe ten demonstrators stood there shouting to those who were eating. Several older white men who were eating were clearly irritated, and didn’t mind telling off the young protesters. Then over to the side I saw a manager freaking out to another employee. The manager completely lost his cool, running around all over the place mumbling under his breath. After a while I stood by the doors to hold them open in case the store owners tried locking us in, and also to alert the 50 or so protesters outside that some of us were still inside the restaurant. Eventually we all left, but we stayed in that building the longest and no doubt met the most hostility there.
When we left Devon Seafood Grill, there was a short scuttle between one black protester (I believe a relative of Brandon Tate Brown) and a white truck-owner. While marching in the street the protester must have bumped up against the man’s truck. The big white guy immediately jumped out of his truck and went right up to the black protester. Police quickly intervened and put the white guy back in his truck, ending the situation.
A REAL member then announced that we would begin walking back to City Hall to conclude the rally. Thus it was a surprise when we marched into Brooks Brothers to occupy our final store. Just like in the rest of the stores, protesters gave several speeches while one or two police officers stood by inside to make sure everything was peaceful. When I walked out of the store I glanced over across the street at the GAP building we took over an hour ago, but now the entrance was gated off and I could see security standing in front of the door. It was only 6:30 P.M. We Shut Down the GAP!
We marched through cars in the street back to City Hall, but went past their to conclude the march at the community building, Friends Center, where the meeting was scheduled for earlier, . The final speeches were made there, until the long and crazy protest was over.