After a day of “visioning,” during which participants in the Occupy National Gathering worked toward drafting a blueprint of the movement’s goals – breaking for a protest-performance-baseball game featuring The 99 Percent versus The Tax Dodgers – Occupiers left Franklin Square for their final march Wednesday night. The action, which organizers originally estimated would draw 1,500 protesters into a massive rally, was the subject of months of media speculation about the places and political issues it would target.
Turns out, about 200 protesters – like an estimated 600,000 other people – just wanted to see the fireworks and hear The Roots perform at the city’s Wawa Welcome America! festival on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Bearing signs and flags, in some cases donning costumer, the marchers eventually made their way to 15th Street and JFK Boulevard.
But when they approached Love Park, they received a sobering dose of reality as their march ran smack into an active crime scene. Demonstrators arrived mere minutes after 16-year-old Nafis Scott allegedly shot two
other teens and was then shot by police after they say he turned the gun
on officers. Both Scott and the two victims are in stable condition.
Protesters were stopped by police on foot, bicycles and horses, who lined up and formed a barricade between the demonstrators – who funneled into Thomas Paine Plaza in front of the Municipal Services Building – and one of the shooting scenes at 16th Street and JFK Boulevard.
A stalemate ensued, with some demonstrators attempting to forge a mutual agreement with officers while others screamed slogans and the occasional obscenity at them. Amid rumblings that the shootings were a ruse staged to block protesters from the Parkway, others sat quietly in the plaza awaiting a consensus on how to proceed.
One official with the police Civil Affairs Unit pleaded with Occupy protesters to turn around, advising them the area was unsafe and asking them not to add to the chaos. “The best thing you can do is enjoy yourselves among yourselves and say a prayer for the city of Philadelphia,” he said.
In the end, one group decided to march back to camp, while a second worked out a compromise in which police let demonstrators past the line of officers and onto the Parkway as long as they left their signs behind. One man was reportedly arrested for allegedly attempting to cross the police line, sign still in tow, while a second protester was taken into custody for an unrelated incident.
Including the alleged shooter, a total of nine people were arrested in Center City Wednesday night, Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross said. Seven are charged with disorderly conduct and one allegedly brought a BB-gun to the festivities.
Mayor Michael Nutter yesterday thanked police for their efforts in dealing with the multiple events that were “happening fairly simultaneously.” He emphasized that the shooting stemmed from
a previous neighborhood dispute and was unrelated to the July fourth
“We had five or 600,000 people out on the street,” he said. “I’m
not going to let some little asshole 16 year-old who’s got a beef with
somebody a month ago up in Germantown negatively impact the image of the
When pressed for how the incident might affect the way the city treats large outdoor concerts in the future, he emphasized the unpredictable nature of events that draw crowds. “Everyone else came down just to have a good time,” he said. “One person out of over a half a million decided not to, did something really stupid, they are now in custody and they will pay a price for it. I cannot control what every person might want to do or what’s in their head. I’m the mayor, not the psychologist, of the city.
The shooting topped off a chaotic day for city officials. Aside from Occupy, there were at least six other protests near Independence Hall, including two Tea Party rallies, the 99 Percent Declaration march, a Veterans for Peace demonstration, the Brandywine Peace Community’s anti-Drone protest and Avenging the Ancestor’s Coalition’s event calling for stepped-up maintenance of the Slavery Memorial.
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey acknowledged that the protests, specifically those staged by Occupy, added to the existing challenges of the already-massive fourth of July celebration, during which days off for all full-duty officers were cancelled and they were assigned 12-hour shifts. State police was also called in as backup.
“I would much rather have officers out patrolling the neighborhoods of our city than following the protesters around. However, they have a right to protest and we respect that right and we did everything we could to ensure that they were able to exercise their First Amendment rights and, in addition to that, people were able to come and go and move around the city and exercise their rights to just go about their normal, everyday lives,” Ramsey said. “Is it a strain? Yes. Is it something we can handle? Absolutely.”
The National Gathering’s vision document, originally scheduled to be presented at 5 p.m.
Wednesday, is not yet finished and will be available on their website. The Gathering ended today, as a group of about 50 dubbed the Guitarmy set off for a 99-mile march on foot to New York City.