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August 17, 2017

After 'Philly is Charlottesville,' BLM holds protest of its own – at Rizzo statue

Together, they pushed.

On one side Wednesday night, Black Lives Matter protesters fought to keep in place a barricade blocking access to the Frank Rizzo statue.

On the other, city police officers tried to push it further back.

When the brief confrontation at JFK Boulevard and 15th Street began to subside and the protesters moved to continue their march along Broad Street, one officer gave an order to those positioned along the barricade.

“Hold the line,” he said.

Asa Khalif, a Black Lives Matter activist, participated in the “Philly is Charlottesville" march and rally that drew a huge crowd to Center City, trended locally on social media and sent news choppers skyward on Wednesday evening.

Khalif and company had planned to go home after that march, but another group asked them to stay for an “action” against the statue, he told PhillyVoice on Thursday. Although that group’s plan to try to topple the statue right then and there didn’t pan out, Khalif’s group stayed anyway and continued to protest the monument’s location outside the city’s Municipal Services Building, across from City Hall.

Around 10 p.m., Khalif and scores of other protesters stood on JFK Boulevard, keeping irate drivers from getting by.

“This is now an occupation by the people,” Khalif shouted toward the stopped cars. “Put that s*** in reverse. Put it in park. We are shutting this street down.”

Warning: The videos below contain adult language.

Ultimately, city police rerouted traffic and shut down the street.

The group also intermittently criticized “racist” officers and demanded justice for David Jones, who was fatally shot from behind by a Philadelphia patrolman on June 8 after being stopped for driving his dirt bike “in a reckless manner” near Whitaker and Hunting Park avenues in Feltonville.

But the rhetoric centered around the statue. After blocking JFK Boulevard, the group soon marched along the street near City Hall to chants of “Tear it down” and “Whose streets? Our streets,” among others.

The BLM activists congregated along the barricades set up by police Tuesday night to protect the monument to former Mayor Frank Rizzo, stating their demands and chanting while dozens of officers stood silently around the statue and along JFK Boulevard.

At one point, Khalif calmly told an officer that he just wants the statue taken down.

Opponents of the city-owned monument say it glorifies a former police commissioner and mayor who they say targeted the city’s black and gay communities.

Those who want to keep the 9-foot-high bronze statue argue that Rizzo, in fact, worked to change the culture within the city’s police department during his distinguished tenure as commissioner, and then as mayor.

A recent petition with some 18,000 supporters as of Thursday afternoon calls for city officials to preserve the monument.

Rizzo, who served as police commissioner from 1968-71 and mayor from 1972-80, “was personally responsible for promoting several African-American officers during his tenure as commissioner,” the petition states.

“As deputy police commissioner, he ended practices that had kept African-American officers from manning patrol cars, after Philadelphia's first African-American police captain, James Reaves, had accused the department of being racially biased. It was during Rizzo's tenure as deputy commissioner that black and white officers assigned to the city's African American neighborhoods worked in tandem in an attempt to reduce friction between civilians and police forces.”

Khalif, who dispelled that argument when asked about it on Thursday, said he has spoken on the issue at length with black residents who were around in the Rizzo era. He’s also heard firsthand tales from his uncles and grandfather.

“That's why the fight is so personal,” he said. “Everyone out there has relatives who are older … elders who say, ‘Hey, this happened.’”

“We should not have to be reminded with a ‘f*** you’ every time we see that damn statue,” he added.

The violence in Charlottesville over the weekend spurred city Councilwoman-at-large Helen Gym’s call on Twitter Monday for the city to remove the monument.

The next day, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Kenney said “now is the time” to have that conversation.

But Khalif wants none of that.

As he indicated time and time again to officers on Wednesday night, his patience is running low.

“It’s coming down one way or the other,” he told them Wednesday night.

He and other Black Lives Matter members plan to hold a “secret meeting” at an undisclosed location on Wednesday, he said. There, they’ll discuss a timeline and plan to topple the statue.

He said the group does want to give the city some time to deal with the situation, but not too much time.

“Before Christmas, that statue’s going down one way or the other,” he said.

"That's a promise."