Analysis of Action Following the Police Shooting of Kaleb Belay in West Philly
Filed under: Analysis, Anarchist Movement, Critique, Northeast, Police
Filed under: Analysis, Anarchist Movement, Critique, Northeast, Police
It’s well known that West Philly is rapidly gentrifying. Developers and more moneyed renters and buyers continue to successfully take more space from poor and working-class Black people. In this process, one of the few negative consequences these newcomers might experience is getting robbed in the neighborhood. In January, the number of robberies in the heart of gentrifying West Philly shot up, in the area between 41st and 49th streets (from east to west) and between Ludlow and Cedar avenues (from north to south). At least eight robberies were reported during that month, according to a University City District (UCD) report. Four homes on Hazel and Larchwood avenues between 49th and 51st streets were also burglarized during this time.
In response, a few of the more unapologetic gentrifiers not only reported the incidents to the police, but also attended a “community meeting” hosted by the police. Following the meeting, the Philly police announced that they would have an increased police presence in the area, including foot patrols specifically in the area between 48th-52nd streets. Sure enough, residents have noticed a lot more cop cars as well as cops on foot in the area since.
On Wednesday, March 6, this increased cop presence and paranoia culminated in the cops shooting a young Black man who live near 49th and Hazel — exactly where gentrifiers had been complaining about burglaries and robberies taking place. Claiming that they had been called to the scene in response to a “stabbing incident” (no stabbing victim was found at the scene) and that he was holding a knife outside a house on the street, the cops shot 25 year old graduate student Kaleb Belay six times (three in the chest). As of this writing he is stable condition at Penn Presbyterian Hospital.
It’s never worth it to call the police over some lost property — and we personally won’t call them to deal with any of our problems. The high 40 and low 50 streets are undergoing intense gentrification. Know that the police’s role is to attract more gentrifiers and push people originally from the neighborhood out. That’s what happened when University of Pennsylvania cleared out an entire neighborhood (what was once called the Black Bottom) of West Philly in order to move the school there decades ago — that’s why UCD security roam the neighborhood.
The police are just looking for an excuse to roll in and further the dispossession and extermination of Black people from the neighborhood.
The night after the police shooting, a group of 20-30 people marched down Baltimore Ave with a banner reading “Fuck the Police.” At least two new buildings on the ave between 50th and 48th streets, all with gentrifying new architecture, had windows broken, and one had “Fuck Cops” written on it. The Mariposa Co-Op, which has been a beacon of gentrification in the neighborhood for a long time (known for calling the police on panhandlers), had red paint thrown at one of its surveillance cameras. Anti-police tags and stickers were put up. After the police arrived, things calmed and the march went to the hospital where Kaleb is recovering before dispersing. Throughout the march many passersby and drivers shouted “Yeah, fuck the police!” and other words of encouragement. There were no arrests.
On March 8th, opportunists Refuse Fascism/Revolutionary Communist Party held a candle-lit vigil for Kaleb near the site of the shooting. This event was poorly attended and seen by many as an attempt to use the grief and anger around the shooting to recruit for their organization.
Kaleb Belay was gunned down by a Philadelphia Police Officer in front of his West Philadelphia home. He is currently in critical condition. Consider donating to his GoFundMe. #JusticeForKaleb https://t.co/8py2exRExZ
— Liberation Project (@Liberation_PHL) March 14, 2019
On March 10th, the Philadelphia Ethiopian Community held a debrief and discussion at the Ethiopian Community Center in West Philly. Kaleb’s lawyer and his boss/family friend gave updates on his situation. Next steps to assist Kaleb and his family were planned. Over the weekends of March 16-17th and 23-24th there were fundraiser events for Kaleb at the Ethiopian Community Center.
A march demanding justice for Kaleb went to the district attorney’s office on April 6th. Simon Haileab, Kaleb’s attorney, reports that Kaleb is recovering slowly; he is out of the intensive care unit but remains at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center. Police are charging him with aggravated assault, simple assault, and possessing an instrument of crime. Anyone interested in donating money to Kaleb can do so by visiting his gofundme here or dropping off money at Bookers Restaurant at Baltimore Ave and 50th St.
When some discontents spray-painted and smashed windows after the police shot an immigrant graduate student in Cedar Park, many were quick to condemn the attacks. These criticisms did not target the anti-police and anti-gentrification sentiment behind the attacks, but rather their choice of targets. The thing about anger and revolt is that it strikes out at what is perceived as oppressive.
No uprising has ever surgically delivered anger to the doorstep of only the most oppressive and powerful, while excluding the lesser contributors of a stifling society. Not everyone is going to track down the head honcho of this or that realty company when they see an example of gentrification around the corner.
In relative terms, what happened to the businesses on Baltimore Ave is calm; police violence has sparked much more devastating responses in other contexts – like the burning of entire neighborhoods.
It also bears mentioning that at the time of this writing, despite many critics suggesting better targets for vandalism (the police, University of Pennsylvania, money lenders, banks, etc), none of these targets seem to have been vandalized. These critics seem content to suggest how others express their anger and direct their rebellion without doing so themselves. If these people are waiting for the ideal targeting of the proper institutions and yet they do not plan on going after them themselves, they are simply waiting. When people start to condemn all but the most pure and correct actions, they climb the stairs of an ivory tower.
Will arrogance about how others struggle move someone closer to freedom? It seems more likely to lead to further separation from those who are struggling and making concrete their rebellion, to create a roadblock for feelings of solidarity. Throwing paint at the expensive Mariposa Co-Op grocery store and breaking the glass door of a fancy-looking new apartment building along Baltimore Ave, some of the actions during the demo that were later criticized by others, targeted small businesses whose gentrifying impact is felt in this particular neighborhood where police shooting took place.
It is gentrification that led to the increased police presence in this neighborhood, which inevitably led to a black man getting shot. In addition to wanting to push back against gentrification in this area, those who criticize colonialism, or ecological destruction, those who hold nihilist perspectives, and even the less discriminating among the anti-capitalists may see the destructive actions on Baltimore Ave as a step in the right direction. We don’t all imagine liberation in the same way, but it should be understood that a dramatic transformation of society is necessary, so when we see that taking place on a small scale as destruction we can understand it to be part of that liberatory transformation even if you would go about it that way yourself.
“There are many who await the hour of liberation impatiently, but how many work to bring it closer?”
Anathema is a Philadelphia-based anarchist periodical.