It May Not Be Sunny in Philadelphia, But the Town’s Not Burning Either

Philly cops in riot gear at protest over police shooting death of young black father whose family had called for an ambulance, not police.(USA Today screen shot)

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Philadelphia — I was awakened at 8 a.m. Wednesday by a worried call from a good friend, journalist and radical prairie activist Michael Caddell in Kansas. “Dave!” he said urgently, “Is Philly burning?”

I groggily asked him what he meant? Had the closed Sunoco tank farm and refinery in South Philadelphia suddenly exploded into an inferno again?

“It’s all over the news,” he said. “Even Democracy Now!. Fires burning, looting, and 30 police injured!

I flipped open my computer and went to the digital Philadelphia Inquirer. There was no story about the city burning. No banner headline about dozens of Philly cops injured. Just a report (10/28/20) on the “mostly peaceful” protests by “hundreds of people” over the outrageous police shooting death Monday of Walter Wallace, Jr.

Wallace was a 27-year-old Black father having a mental health crisis, whose family had called 911 for an ambulance. Instead of an ambulance, they got two cops who, immediately on arriving in their squad car, pulled out their sidearms. Soon after, they shot Wallace over ten times, killing him, “because,” they said, he didn’t drop a small knife he was holding in his hand. This although he was at least 10 feet from them at the time, and his mother was pleading with the cops to back off and let her calm him down.

It was an event that had happened two days earlier, and I knew there had been protests over it, but not widespread unrest.

The Inquirer article mentioned a protest by hundreds of people from the neighborhood and supporters at the police precinct in West Philadelphia where the shooting had occurred, and also that some thousand people had gathered on the other side of the 1.6 million–person city, in its Port Richmond neighborhood. There they had broken into shops in a strip mall and a Walmart at the intersection of Castor and Aramingo Avenues. But aside from a police car and a few dumpsters set on fire, there was no mass unrest, and no torching of stores or other buildings.

Nothing like the uprising and conflagration last summer in Minneapolis following the police murder of George Floyd, or even like the widespread break-ins in the shopping district in Philly’s Center City and other cities last summer in response to Floyd’s videotaped strangulation.

What was going on? Why Mike’s anxious morning call?

It turns out that protests against the police shooting of yet another young Black man (an all-too-common event in Philadelphia, where there have been 400 fatal and non-fatal shootings by police, mostly of Black men, over the 2008–18 period), while reported fairly calmly and accurately in the local media, were being played up as another major urban explosion in the national media…

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