“What’s Known as a Sanctuary City”

Protesters blocking the street near the ICE building have linked arms.
Written by Sasha Berkman, Photos by Danielle Corcione




On July 2nd groups from a dozen local leftist, grassroots organizations marched in an “Abolish ICE” march going from City Hall to the ICE office at the intersection of 8th and Cherry Street. Within minutes of their arrival they had the building surrounded, the entrances blocked off, and the beginnings of an encampment arranged. After a harrowing night of tense stand-offs between the protesters demanding genuine sanctuary for immigrants and the combined forces of the Philadelphia Police Department (bike-mounted officers and counter-terrorism squad), DHS (Department of Homeland Security) Federal Police, and (curiously) local Park Rangers the encampment remained. In valiant fashion the protestors stood their ground that first night. Over the course of the following few days the police and protestors played a game of street chess with ground being taken and lost, arrests being made, and crowds breaking up and reforming sometimes in the course of only a few hours.

On Thursday, July 5, 2018 police, with nearly no warning, broke through the camp and smashed and arrested their way through the dozen or so feet of Cherry Street still occupied.


On “Threats to Public Safety”

In a statement to the Inquirer, Deanna Gamble, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s office chided the protestors for ignoring the “repeated warnings…throughout the week,” and commented that despite the mayor’s sympathy for their cause, “…the mayor cannot make exceptions simply because he agrees with the protesters.”

Ms. Gamble then, employing herculean moral gymnastics, commented: while, “…ICE’s aggressive tactics, their separation of families, [and] their targeting of law abiding immigrants are cruel…[the Mayor] cannot make exceptions to the law and allow individuals to create a threat to public safety by blocking access to a building…” In other words, in the hierarchy of threats to public safety “aggressive”, “cruel” tactics deployed against “law abiding immigrants” do not merit much attention to the Mayor’s office. But threaten the city of Philadelphia’s famously not-blocked-off cement walkways? Some citizens of Philadelphia will perhaps rest easy knowing such watchful guardians never abandoned their posts at the eleventh hour.

More than a dozen police officers with bicycles guard the ICE office.

For everyone else the surgical interpretations and enforcement of specific laws over others may be a cause for concern. In fact, what happened was the city of Philadelphia, a “Sanctuary City”, disregarded their pretensions of concern for the immigrant population at the first credible threat to ICE’s “aggressive”, “cruel” tactics. The city, and the PPD in particular, acted as a hired goon squad for the federal government (read: Trump).

It would perhaps ease those concerned citizens, if the mayor’s office, and perhaps the mayor himself (his silence has not gone unnoticed), could elaborate further on the principles of their decisions. On what legal or moral principle is the right to safe and able sidewalks so unequivocally upheld?

If instead they would be interested in the international human rights ICE violates in its day-to-day operations one could happily oblige in a casual Google search:

“(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”

“(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.-UN Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 13 & 14

One might also refer the mayor’s office to the American Convention on Human Rights or the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

These principles, first enshrined in International law in the aftermath of the Nazi atrocities have since been expanded on by the international community to include many additional protections. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC):

“[Migrants] are entitled to respect for their lives, their dignity, their family rights, and their political, religious and other convictions. They must not be subjected to torture, cruel or degrading treatment or corporal punishment, and must be protected against all acts of violence or reprisals.”

When one considers also the accusations and lawsuits alleging sexual and physical abuse, forced druggings, and other abuses at ICE detention facilities the case for abolition seems almost too kind.

Many will not be surprised to learn that the Trump administration violates international humanitarian law with gusto. But it may surprise some that the city of Philadelphia which so proudly proclaims that, “…Philadelphia is a city of immigrants…” would so casually discard its liberal credo. In fact they go further, to directly challenge the immigration policies of the Trump administration: “The city will resist any federal attempts to turn Philadelphians against one another and makes us weaker and less safe.

The protest has forced the Kenney administration to take genuine action on the debate around ICE, and their actions are strikingly similar to those of the Trump administration’s: ignoring, scolding, and repressing activists. As an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer opines, “Did Philly police just bike-doze Mayor Kenney’s relationship with progressives?”.


What in Fact Does the Mayor, “Strongly Support”?

The Mayor’s office claimed strong support for the protest while in fact their Police department stifled it from the get-go, suppressing it arbitrarily and heavy-handedly. The distance between their words and their actions is cavernous.

If the Kenney administration is assuming an ambivalent stance toward international law then perhaps they would care instead to attend to their own laws. Philadelphia is ostensibly a Sanctuary City, meaning the city limits its cooperation with ICE. Would it really have been so difficult to meet the quite simple demand of ending the Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System (PARS) a real-time arrest database? Perhaps the highly lucrative contract, of about $5,500 a year, is too dear for the city to uphold its position as a Sanctuary City.

Or to call off the police force on people more willing to fight than the administration is? The protesters weren’t even asking the Mayor to risk arrest himself, but simply to be true to his principles. The Mayor’s office statement is also noticeably absent of any indication there were genuine threats to public safety. The only threat was to the functioning of ICE in Philadelphia.

The Kenney administration has made a choice, a clear legal and moral choice, to punish some violations of the law and not others. It teaches a clear lesson about “friendly” administrations and liberal reforms: even plainly stated and openly embraced policy does not translate into material support. This is why the Civil Rights Movement happened nearly 100 years after the end of slavery. The Abolish ICE Movement might take a page out of the Red for Ed teachers movement in the wildcat strikes that won concession after concession in Republican led states. Perhaps showing up at City Hall? In the words of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “If there is no struggle there is no progress.” Continuing, in words that have lost none of their salience:

“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters…Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”


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