In the wake of the 26th Police District’s handling of the act of vigilantism shown by a group of mostly white men in Fishtown armed with baseball bats last week, residents and neighborhood groups in the neighborhood and surrounding area have cast doubt upon the police district’s ability to allow them to feel safe in their community.
The Fishtown Neighbors Association and Northern Liberties Neighbors Association have issued statements about the incident, both of which criticized the district’s handling of the situation.
“The failure of the 26th District police to disperse the crowd of over three dozen individuals —many of whom were wielding bats, hammers, and other weapons—after the Mayor’s 6 pm curfew went into effect led directly to the assault of the press along with two other attendees,” the FNA wrote in a statement released on Tuesday. “The events that took place on Monday night left many of our neighbors and their children feeling unsafe in their homes and community. We will have a long way to go to reestablish this trust and continue in the positive direction we were headed prior to Monday’s incredibly disappointing events.”
A statement released by the NLNA on Thursday echoed the sentiment of the FNA’s letter.
“[W]e feel it is our duty to speak out against the deeply disturbing events that occurred on Monday night, June 1,” read the statement, which was signed by NLNA president Claire Adler. “On that night, the 26th District police failed to disperse a group of several dozen men armed with baseball bats, hammers, and other weapons, spouting racist and homophobic rhetoric. The police permitted the group to menace and attack our neighbors and members of the press. We strongly condemn the 26th District’s inaction and condoning of this behavior on Monday.”
Since the incident, a petition has been created to have the 26th district’s captain, William Fisher, “immediately removed” from power. The petition alleges that Fisher “knew about the vigilante mob, encouraged, enabled, and protected them.” At this time of writing, more than 30,000 people have signed the petition.
On Wednesday evening, Black Lives Matter protesters marched through Fishtown and many expressed their displeasure with how the police district handled the baseball bat-wielding group.
“He blatantly allowed white men to patrol the neighborhood with bats while peaceful protesters are being gassed across the city,” said a Fishtown resident named Tyler who declined to give her last name. “In a situation like this, no, I don’t feel like you can feel safe at all with the police right now.”
Another Fishtown resident named John, who also declined to give a last name, was one of the people protesting Monday night. He said that his roommate, whom he came with, was hit by an SUV driven by one of the people with bats. John told the Star that when he and his roommate told the police about the incident moments after it happened, they refused to act.
“That SUV was parked a block away from where we were when we were telling the police what happened,” he said. “They didn’t f—— do anything.”
John said the lack of action on behalf of the police made him feel unsafe.
“I didn’t feel safe walking home, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “Those guys could have been waiting for us.”
A Fishtown resident named Rebecca – also declining to give a last name – said that the altercation set a “precedent.”
“I think it speaks very very well to how this city is run and who it values most and what it will do to uphold who it values most,” she said, noting that she agreed with the petition and thought Fisher should be removed. “I think there are plenty of people who could do the job as well if not better than him that have better ideals.”
At the end of the protest walk, which continued on despite a thunderstorm, the protesters, who were now drenched in rainwater, ended up back in front of the 26th Police District, demanding answers for what happened Monday night. After about 15 to 20 minutes of trying to get them to talk, police officers eventually began mingling with protesters and answering their questions.
When asked by protesters, Fisher said that he “didn’t condone a lot of that behavior” that was depicted by the armed men. He added that he was “screaming and cursing at them” and that “things got pretty heated.” He also said that his officers “weren’t picking sides.”
The Star asked Fisher whether or not he would have done anything differently that night. He responded with a quick, “No.”
When the Star followed up with Fisher via email over the weekend, however, he said that “[t]he event was not resolved as quickly as I would have liked, but once we were able to get additional resources it was resolved without further incident.”
“Monday night was very contentious and could have been disastrous,” he wrote in the email. “Fortunately total control was not lost.”
In response to the FNA and NLNA statements, Fisher said he was saddened to hear that many residents felt unsafe in their neighborhoods.
“Nobody should ever have to feel that way,” he said. “The men and women of the 26th District are committed to serving, protecting, and making our communities safe for everyone.”
On June 4, Fisher wrote a statement received by the Fishtown BID saying that he “did not ask those residents to show up, nor did I want them there.”
He added that nobody was cited for a curfew violation.
“We didn’t enforce [the curfew] on the Fishtown residents and we also didn’t enforce it on the protestors,” he wrote. “It would have been tactically disadvantageous for us to do so and we would have lost control of the situation. What’s not being mentioned in the news is that curfew also was not enforced for BLM and Fishtown Families Against Racism on Tuesday and Wednesday. Again, a tactical disadvantage for police.”
In a statement Tuesday, Mayor Jim Kenney claimed that the group participated in “vigilantism.”
“Their actions were antagonistic and made a bad situation worse,” he said. “Armed vigilantism will not be tolerated moving forward.”
Kenney specifically criticized the district’s handling of the situation, saying it took too long for the vigilantes to be dispersed.
“I am glad the police eventually moved in to disperse the group,” he said, “but I am not happy about how long it took.”