On Friday night, a viral video depicting the extrajudicial police killing of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old unarmed Black man from Memphis, prompted helicopters in Philly to hover near my house in West Philly.
Cute that @6abc and @NBCPhiladelphia are circling 52nd St like vultures hoping shit pops off from the Tyre Nichols video on top of riot cops on corners down 52nd. Reaction formation! pic.twitter.com/0d2yXGQAXb
— Eastern Hellbender (@CorynWolk) January 28, 2023
The reason? Media and police were preparing for potential mass protests following the public outcry.
The situation was infuriating. There was so much premeditated presumptions of a potential riot, damaged property, and another racial uprising. I began to be triggered from the last time such a viral traumatic video caused an uproar. In 2020, the extrajudicial police killing of George Floyd, another unarmed Black man, led to massive protests—and scores of innocent diverse protesters being teargassed by Philadelphia police. I was hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself.
Fortunately, the few protests that did occur in the city were peaceful and didn’t lead to more injustice from the police.
But then chaos broke across Philadelphia on Sunday night — and a different energy was felt. Packed crowds, public intoxication, reckless behavior, and damaged public property could easily be seen throughout Broad Street and South Street as the Eagles are now headed to the Super Bowl.
This kind of behavior is treated as a celebration and is affectionately told to everyone as “it’s a Philly thing.” And while there are some people of color who are a part of this rowdy bunch, it’s impossible to deny that if they weren’t alongside white people acting this way, the situation would be completely different. And after first saying this five years ago when the Eagles previously went to the Super Bowl, I can now confirm this is true.
Philadelphia has clearly learned nothing about such double standards post the 2020 racial uprisings. All of the books, lectures, and dialogues about white privilege have gone out the window as people reinforce the very gross hypocrisies that continue to hurt people who look like me. The harsh truth is that even right now we can all admit that if there was an Eagles crowd channeling their passion for racial injustice in protest—the vibe would be much different.
Innocent protesters who were unjustly teargassed down 1-676 for advocating for Black Lives Matters didn’t climb up greased poles or break SEPTA property—they were practicing their First Amendment rights. While some Eagles fans threw beer bottles at the cops in public on Sunday, they weren’t pepper-sprayed in their faces or had rubber bullets shot at them as innocent protesters were back in 2020. Stating these facts isn’t me simply being a Debbie Downer, but an observer of history who wants us to do better.
“To be a Black man in America and know that I’m more safe getting publicly drunk alongside white Eagles fans than I would if I stood up against racism at a protest doesn’t sit well with me.”
— Ernest Owens
To be a Black man in America and know that I’m more safe getting publicly drunk alongside white Eagles fans than I would if I stood up against racism at a protest doesn’t sit well with me. Watching tons of videos last night on social media of how the media and public officials defined all of this ruckus as simply joy and fun hurts.
According to TMZ, the Philadelphia Police Department only made five arrests on Sunday night. Bad behavior that’s co-signed by white people during celebrations is given a slap on the wrist. Justified rage from people of color during social justice protests are condemned. This is normalized racism. This is why we can’t have nice things.
The last time I shared these thoughts, I was met with a slew of hate from Eagles fans and misguided takes from our other local media outlets. Unfortunately, time has only proven my point even further as we continue to witness two different Philadelphias: One where the police can tolerate outrageous behavior from sports fans and one that has no care for those righteously speaking out against injustice. While the city was celebrating going to the Super Bowl again, I was thinking about Tyre Nichols and the fact that I still live in a society that wouldn’t let me peacefully speak out for his life in the same massive way.
Newsflash: Black Lives Matter, even when they’re not playing or celebrating football.