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The resolution resolves to protect Philadelphians’ rights to protest and peaceful assembly, particularly in response to the upcoming presidential election.

PHILADELPHIA—Today, City Council passed a resolution affirming the First Amendment rights of Philadelphians as they grieve the devastating loss of Walter Wallace Jr. at the hands of police and seek to ensure a fair and accurate vote count on Election Day.

The resolution, which was introduced by Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At-Large), is co-sponsored by Councilmembers Allan Domb (At-Large), Jamie Gauthier (3rd District), Helen Gym (At-Large), Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At-Large), Derek Green (At-Large), Bobby Henon (6th District), Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District), Cherelle Parker (9th District), and Isaiah Thomas (At-Large).

The resolution emphasizes the First Amendment rights of residents of Philadelphia to join with fellow citizens in protest or peaceful assembly as critical to a functioning democracy. The resolution comes at time when the President of the United States has indicated on a number of occasions that he will not engage in a peaceful transition of power should he lose the election, and has worked to actively undermine the legitimacy and accuracy of the election. As the most populous city in one of the most important swing states in the upcoming election, Philadelphians’ ability to peacefully protest will be critical part of protecting the democratic process.

The resolution cites the recent arrest of Philadelphia community leader, Nancy Ngyuen, for engaging in peaceful protest outside the house of the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as a clear example of the precedent for movement leaders to be targeted by federal law enforcement agents for expressing dissent. As Black Lives Matter protests demanding justice for Walter Wallace Jr. will likely converge with demonstrations related to the election, Philadelphia’s history of using tear gas, rubber bullets, and pepper spray against its own citizens also looms large.

While the City of Philadelphia has taken many steps to begin to mend the harm caused by the use of chemical weapons and excessive force on protestors during the height of the summer’s unrest, the resolution indicates Council’s desire to not repeat the same mistakes.

With nine co-sponsors, the resolution is a clear commitment by City Council to protect the constitutional rights of Philadelphia community members as they collectively engage in nonviolent demonstrations in the days and weeks ahead.

“No one messes with Philadelphia,” said Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At-Large). “As a Black woman, I would not be here today, would not even be able to vote, if it weren’t for my family members, my ancestors, and my elders rising up in protest against oppressive systems. We are grieving and we are hurting but we are strong. I stand with my colleagues in City Council and with Philadelphia movement leaders and community members with confidence that we will overcome this difficult moment, continue to pursue justice, and protect the integrity of our democracy together.”

“As we mourn the loss of Walter Wallace Jr., and as we approach the most high-stakes election of our lifetimes, it’s never been more important that people’s freedom of expression is upheld,” said Councilmember Jamie Gauthier. “I stand with Councilmember Brooks and with all Philadelphians who are dedicated to protecting our rights and our democracy.”

“Under federal leadership that openly flaunts the desire to oppress our citizens’ first amendment rights, Philadelphians need to know that local government has their back and will protect their right to free speech and public demonstrations,” said Councilmember Helen Gym. “As we grapple with tragedy, uncertainty and the most important election of our lives, the City will continue to uphold the constitutional right of all people to make their voices heard in the streets. Democracy is not always convenient, but it is always indispensable.”

“In addition to voting, the right to peaceful protest and assembly is at the heart of our democracy,” said Councilmember Isaiah Thomas. “And at this moment in time, we need to stand together to protect our democracy. Whether it is Philadelphians showing up to demand justice and accountability after the tragic killing of Walter Wallace Jr. or marching to ensure that every vote is counted in this Tuesday’s election, we must defend the first amendment rights of our constituents.”

Community leaders and activist groups across Philadelphia expressed their strong support for the resolution as a symbol that City Council is invested in the safety and rights of Philadelphians as they mobilize for an accurate election and racial justice.

“I am encouraged by Councilperson Kendra Brooks’ resolution. The city of Philadelphia has a responsibility to all its citizens, that its police force will not be used to threaten and intimidate our community for political protest,” said Nancy Ngyuen, Executive Director of Vietlead. “The resolution is an important step – but the events of the last few nights show us that community safety can only be guaranteed by our people. The world is watching us now.”

“Councilmember Kendra Brooks’ leadership in this resolution affirming Philadelphian’s right to protest is timely and sadly necessary considering the moment our city and nation is in,” said Bryan Mercer, Executive Director of the Movement Alliance Project. “The right to protest injustice must continue to be respected as it has proven to be one of the few paths for recourse our people have against the lawlessness of police killing Black people. As long as Black people live in a world where the property and profits of corporations are valued more than their lives, our right to rise up in resistance must be protected.”

“Whether it’s racially or politically motivated, our rights to protest and stand up for our communities are under attack,” said Sergio Cea, West/Southwest Neighborhood Organizer with Reclaim Philadelphia. “With a huge election looming, the only way to fight back is for working people of all races to stand united. Only when we go together can we make sure that every voice is heard and every vote is counted.”


Photo: Rob Bulmahn, used under Creative Commons license.

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