A week after his march through Fishtown, Pastor John invites Fishtowners to tackle racism with street art

Fishtown’s street mural rides on the coattails of Washington DC’s “BLACK LIVES MATTER” street art. Pastor John Brice, however, thought “End Racism Now” would be a better slogan for his city.

Photo by Tom Beck.

One week after his cathartic march through Fishtown a day after the neighborhood saw baseball bat-wielding vigilantes ready to stop looting, Pastor John Brice of Olney’s St. James United Methodist Church came back to East Girard Avenue last Tuesday evening to hold a street-painting party in the middle of the avenue. Brice, along with members of the Fishtown community, painted the words “END RACISM NOW” in big yellow letters between the trolley tracks in front of the 26th Police District’s station. The street mural also includes the names of 10 African Americans whose lives were cut short in one way or another: Breonna Taylor, David Jones, Sandra Bland, Jamel Floyd, Tony McDade, Emmett Till, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Nina Pop and David McAtee.

When the Star spoke to Brice after the march, he told the paper he felt his job was done in Fishtown. There was no need to come back. But he came back.

Photo by Ryan Solimeo. Used with permission.

“I talked to some of the grassroots efforts here, man,” he said this time around. “Fishtown Families Against Racism, Pastor Dan from Summerfield, and we talked and we said, man, let’s do something really bold to leave a statement because Fishtown was changed. Now let’s set an example for Philadelphia. That’s what we did tonight. We said, ‘Let’s set an example for Philly.’ ”

The initial plan for the mural was to have it washed off by the next day since a permit wasn’t procured to keep it permanent. On Wednesday, however, the Department of Streets confirmed with the Star that it issued a permit for the mural post hoc, which allows it to stay until it naturally fades.

A spokeswoman for the streets department, Keisha McCarty-Skelton, told the Star that the fire department attempted to wash off the paint Tuesday night after everybody had left the site. 

“Ultimately, fire hoses could not remove it, and the display is still visible,” she said. “The City has no intentions on removing it at this time.”

She said the department is working with various groups “on a more permanent public art display in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Brice was appreciative that the 26th Police District allowed the mural to proceed.

“We support everyone’s right to express their views and opinions,” the 26th Police District’s commander, Capt. William Fisher, said in an emailed statement to the Star. “Last night people came together and did that in a way we have not seen in the city in the past week and a half. It was a positive experience with a lot of positive energy. I would not be surprised to see this start happening in other parts of the city.”

Fisher could be seen helping paint the mural.

Fishtown’s street mural rides on the coattails of Washington, D.C.’s “BLACK LIVES MATTER” street art. Brice, however, thought “End Racism Now” would be a better slogan for his city.

Photo by Ryan Solimeo. Used with permission.

“Racism is the root of Black Lives Matter,” he said. “We know that black lives matter, that’s why [the 10 names] are listed here, but let’s make sure that we get to the root. Racism is at that root. Frank Rizzo is at that root. Don’t look at the outside branches, look at the roots.”

Since he name-dropped Rizzo, the Star asked Brice how he felt about his statue coming down and mural being painted over.

“I think that he had some tension in this city, man,” Brice said. “I think the people got exactly what they wanted.”

After the painting was complete, Brice had residents gather around the mural and take a knee. 

“When we walk into a room, Fishtown, we’re not the thermometer,” he said, turning East Girard Avenue into his new pulpit. “We’re thermostats. Well, what’s the difference? One tells the temperature of the room and the other one sets the atmosphere in that room. And tonight, Fishtown was thermostats because we say racism will not live on Montgomery, racism will not be on Palmer, racism will not be on Susquehanna,” – the volume of his voice increasing – “racism will not be in Philadelphia, racism will not be tolerated!”

See photos from the event below:

Follow Tom Beck on twitter at @ImTomBeck