(Councilman Squilla calming things down)
The trouble with Philly Councilman Mark Squilla’s response to why he attended the racially-charged protest in Whitman (a neighborhood in South Philadelphia with a pretty recent history of racist reaction politics) is that when politicians go to rallies, that just emboldens the organizers and helps carry their message. It doesn’t calm them down.
Upset residents held a rally. It was reported that at least one person there was chanting “white lives matter” into a megaphone at the event.
Squilla said he was called by the police captain with whom the crowd was so angry.
“I received a call asking me to go down there, that the people were getting restless and blaming the captain for the lack of service,” he said. “I went down there to calm the residents down let them know what happened.”
Squilla still maintains he had the correct instinct here, saying he would “absolutely” go again, but that’s wrong. Attending the rally didn’t calm anything down, because that’s not how rallies work.
People try to get elected officials to go to their rallies because that draws attention to their causes, validate their message, and earns positive media coverage like the glowing WPVI portrait of this rally. Nobody would have covered this thing if Squilla hadn’t gone to the rally.
If you wanted to calm this group down, you’d let them blow off steam here without calling a bunch of broader citywide attention to it, put out a statement, convene a meeting with the relevant neighbors and the police department, sort out the details of the investigation on the police side, and report back the conclusion to the neighbors concerned about it. Instead he ended up whipping things up, and boosting the signal on this group’s inciting “racist attack” interpretation of the event, which is really reckless because we don’t even know yet whether the “attack” wasn’t just a mutual conflict:
But according to a tipster in South Philadelphia, there are rumors that the real story is quite different—that a small, mutual conflict was “exaggerated for the news coverage” so that it would appear that black people were “terrorizing” the neighborhood’s white residents.
By the way, don’t miss Max Marin’s excellent article about the recent history of racial politics in Whitman, and the great lengths white residents have gone to (gaming the Department of Licenses & Inspections and police department in “Cease-gate,” threatening violence) in order to keep black people from moving into the neighborhood. The claim that the area doesn’t have a racism problem just isn’t credible on its face.