Philly Sheriff’s officers disbands encampment by force as U City protestors take to the streets
Protesters took to the streets after the Philadelphia Sheriff's Department forced their way into the campsite and removed all the gear.
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Helicopters whirred over 40th and Market Street, Philadelphia, today, Aug. 8, after the City Sheriff's Department faced off with peaceful protesters at UC Townhomes, a coalition at the frontlines of a battle against a sale between IBID Group and the Townhomes’ residents in West Philadelphia.
The altercation follows a court order last week, where Judge Joshua Roberts ruled that protesters were not “legally” allowed to camp on the premises. However, they did not issue a deadline, giving the Philadelphia Police Department leeway to determine it.
Police arrived at the scene early in the morning ahead of the deadline as they prepared to confront campers. They approached the campsite, where protesters lined up with their arms linked to prevent police access.
Krystal, one of the residents at UC Townhomes who faces displacement from her unit, recalled the forceful approach.
“They basically pushed through. Some of us held hands, but they pushed themselves through,” Krystal said.
Darlene, another Townhome resident of over 28 years, said she let go as soon as she noticed tensions escalate from the police.
After the unit broke through the human chain, they proceeded to remove all tents and camping gear from the courtyard. Sources also told AL DÍA that police approached a canopy, where coalition members set up an information table and ripped it from a disabled resident’s hand as she held on.
Sources also noted the presence of Leysath Security Firm, a private company hired by Altman, in the surrounding streets. They could be seen in conversation with members of the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Department, though it remains unclear if there was a collaborative effort to remove protesters.
Residents remarked they had not seen that particular firm previously on the premises.
By court order, police stored all encampment gear in a vacated unit, where the owner is required to hold it for 30 days.
Where is Councilmember Gauthier?
Councilmember Jamie Gauthier previously told AL DÍA she was working through litigation towards obtaining an equitable housing outcome, but did not specify what steps she would take.
After Gauthier enacted a moratorium for zoning projects, IBID Associates sued the Councilmember, halting any development with the sale.
Residents say they’ve reached out multiple times to no avail. To date, they have received no communication on behalf of the Councilmember’s office.
Although the police removed camping gear, they did not initially remove Councilmember Gauthier’s banner, perched at the building front overlooking the courtyard. After residents and coalition supporters questioned why the sign was left intact, police took it down.
As part of Gauthier’s overall legislative plan, which Altman is attempting to strike down in court, it includes:
- A 12-month demolition moratorium.
- A requirement for new affordable housing to be built.
Gauthier’s office declined to comment on the encampment clearing.
Residents are not deterred
Following the confrontation, residents took to cleaning the space, which had suffered some damage from police intervention.
“Something’s gotta give. It affects me. It affects my child,” said Krystal, who is also one of the coalition’s campers. “I’m actually glad that this happened. I was prepared for it. Am I scared? No. Am I intimidated? No. I will speak my voice.”
Residents also told AL DÍA they would not cease protests and would continue to find ways to halt the sale of the low-income housing complex. The resident council will continue to convene as they figure out the next steps.
During a court hearing last week set to disband the encampment, a site manager said the protester’s presence posed security concerns.
“We don’t know who all these people are,” site manager Marla Beckett said.
Property owners continue to call the protester’s decision to set up camp “ill-advised.”
“The owners of 3900 Market Street are in the process of reviewing the unfortunate and ill-advised decision by a group of protesters to occupy a portion of the premises,” IBID said.
“To be clear, while we respect their right to protest and express their opinions, these individuals are trespassing on private property and have no legal right to assemble on the site or access public utilities there.”
Residents like Krystal face potential homelessness, given a tight deadline for housing vouchers. Property owners took months to issue vouchers over the one-year period since they announced the sale to residents via a letter.