Protesters and Counter-Protesters in Philadelphia Unite Against Corrupt City Government

“This city is corrupt, we know it’s corrupt, the government is as corrupt as they come," homeless advocate Jamaal Henderson told Status Coup

As homelessness continues exploding across America—with more than 11 million people facing eviction at the end of June—protestors and counter-protestors in the impoverished Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia came out Wednesday with the expectation of police sweeps that forcefully evict homeless people from the parks, tent cities, or street corners they live in. 

But after standing on other sides of the street from one another—one side with signs protesting the sweeps and the other a group of working-poor Kensington residents demanding the homeless be removed from their neighborhood—things took a unique turn when a counter-protester walked across the street and asked protesters why are we fighting each other rather than the corrupt Philadelphia city government?

Two leaders from the protester and counter-protester groups stood side-by-side suddenly echoing each other’s points about the city abandoning and underserving its most vulnerable citizens.

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“If we’re not the one’s writing the laws we are being victimized by them,” Philadelphia activist Jamaal Henderson, a protester out in opposition against the homeless sweeps, said standing next to counter-protesters after the two groups united. “The homeless, the residents, the children, the elderly, the sick, the infirm—we suffer while they profit.”

Counter-protester Sonja Bingham, a Kensington resident who has been demanding that the city remove the homeless from her neighborhood, joined with the protesters who opposed the sweeps.

“Get these people housing now!” Bingham passionately shouted through a megaphone, expressing outrage that children in the neighborhood have to walk through a sea of needles, poop, and homeless people all around the neighborhood.

Although not every protester saw eye-to-eye on the housing and homeless issue within their community, the majority of  protesters and counter-protesters united in a common goal of pressuring their city government to provide affordable housing for the homeless, mental health services, and drug addiction rehabilitation. 

Philadelphia claims to use a “national model” for their sweeps of homeless encampments in which they encourage the homeless to enter one of the city's various shelters, according to the Inquirer. But residents and activists have a different perception of these sweeps and lawsuits against the city have already been filed to stop the forced eviction of homeless people throughout the city.

Even if Philadelphia did utilize what they call a “humane national model,” conditions in many shelters are deplorable, Villanova University Professor Stephanie Sena, who is one of the plaintiffs suing Philadelphia to stop the sweeps, told Status Coup. Sena added that many homeless people who go to shelters enter cramped conditions, making social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic impossible.

So why is homelessness exploding in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Chicago, New York, Washington D.C. and many other major cities in the wealthiest country on earth?

Corruption is the answer. In Philadelphia specifically, there are literally real estate brokers like Allan Domb sitting on city council.

“Allan Domb is as corrupt as they come,” Henderson told Status Coup about Councilman Domb. “How are you sitting on city council deciding the fate of all the citizens of this city and you make money off of selling houses. That’s a conflict of interest from the beginning.”

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Henderson pivoted to calling out the entire Philadelphia political establishment.

“This city is corrupt, we know it’s corrupt, the government is as corrupt as they come; I’ve lived up and down the east coast and I’ve never seen nothing like this,” Henderson said, adding that colleges like University of Pennsylvania and Temple University own a big chunk of the city but pay little in taxes.

Other city council members have also been flooded with big real estate developer cash: ahead of 2019 elections, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson raised $249,000; about a third of it came from real estate developers, WHYY PPS reported, additionally revealing that the entire city council received $43,100 from PACS representing the real estate industry.

This corporate capture of elected officials is giving those politicians on the city council the power to gentrify the city and ultimately destroy and replace Philadelphia neighborhoods—forcing low-income, minority residents out and redeveloping their neighborhoods to lure in wealthier white professionals.. 

The city also gives massive tax breaks to telecommunications and media companies with money that could have gone to the less economically fortunate (one of which is Comcast, who owns NBC and MSNBC).

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Philadelphia even received money from the federal government to help their homelessness issue. But several activists and residents told Status Coup the majority of the money has been redirected to prisons.

All of this has led to the city of brotherly love allowing the wealthy to hoard money while leaving the poor poorer and more and more people homeless. The city pays the rich while completely ignoring the poor, leading much to a growing percentage of of the city’s struggling population to feel invisible. One protestor named Wally described Kensington as a red-light district, telling Status Coup that the government turns a blind eye to crime and social and economic issues in the neighborhood. This forced- upon invisibility isn’t being taken well by members of the community. 

“Just because you’re a drug addict or just because you make a wrong turn down here, you’re still a human,” a protester out in support of the homeless, told Status Coup. 

Ultimately, Wednesday’s uniting of the protesters fighting against the sweeps of the homeless and counter-protesters demanding the homeless be removed from their neighborhood is a step in the right direction.

 In the end, as Kensington resident Sonja Bingham said: “We still gotta want to have the same goal in mind, making the streets, making life better for ourselves and our children.” 

By:

Christian Maitre

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