Juxtaposing holiday music, Santa hats and the official lighting of City Hall’s 65-foot-tall white fir tree was a small protest.

On Nov. 28, a demonstration erupted from the crowd at The Met Holiday Plaza at City Hall as Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney came up to a podium, to read “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and “Visit from St. Nicholas” in front of hundreds amassed at City Hall.

As Kenney approached the microphone members of the crowd began to boo. As Kenney proceeded, the chastising did not cease as members chanted “end stop-and-frisk,” “Kenney resign” and “liar.” Seemingly unfazed, Kenney read through the poem without making mention of the protesters.

“The Mayor at first thought they were booing Gritty,” Mike Dunn, deputy communications director for City of Philadelphia told Philadelphia Weekly on  behalf of Kenney. “Seriously though, he understands that one of the great things about this country is that people are free to assemble, voice concerns, protest, and boo their elected officials. Even at a tree lighting.”

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Kenney

Mayor Jim Kenney was booed by protesters as he read "Twas the Night Before Christmas." | Image: Andrea Cantor

Even contending with blaring live music, protesters did not let up their chants. 

“We are here, because Mayor Kenney has a history of lying to the citizens of Philadelphia, specifically to Black [and] Brown citizens of Philadelphia,” said Deandra Jefferson, on the steering committee of Philly for REAL Justice.

The coalition for racial, economic and legal reform and equality had two major points of protest: ending stop-and-frisk and the removal of former Mayor Frank Rizzo's statue from Thomas Paine Plaza.

“So far, he has lied about ending stop and frisk. He could say it was a mince of words, but he knew what he was saying when he said ‘end stop and frisk,’” said Jefferson, 25, from Mt. Airy. “And to Black Philadelphians that means police do not have the right to stop us and frisk us, because we look suspicious. And then when he went into office, he went back on that.”

Indeed, Mayor Kenney did make a campaign promise for his 2015 mayoral election that he would end the controversial “stop-and-frisk,” policy, a procedure which many feel has notoriously led to discriminatory acts and racial profiling.

In 2016, Kenney said in a public statement about how the Philadelphia Police Department’s practice needs tweaking as opposed to full abolition.

“Pedestrian stops were going on long before Mayor Nutter placed an emphasis on ‘stop and frisk’ as part of his ‘broken windows’ fighting strategy,” Kenney said a statement. “We’ve ended the use of that strategy. We’re now focused on community policing, and that includes building upon and continuing to strengthen the police department’s efforts to ensure that all pedestrian stops are constitutional and applied as fairly as possible across demographic groups. We’re also employing a larger community policing strategy that will address some of the friction that may have developed in the past from bad stops.”

According to the ACLU Pennsylvania, ending “stop-and-frisk” has showed progress but in 2017, as many as 20,000 people in Philadelphia were stopped without justifiable reason.

“That’s one lie,” Jefferson continued.

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Gritty sign

While Kenney's spokesperson joked that the mayor thought the protesters were booing Gritty, one protest sign read, "Gritty hates liars and Gritty hates Kenney." | Image: Andrea Cantor

“Another lie is that he told us the Rizzo statue would be down by April of this year. It is now November, almost December and that statue is still up, and he said it will be there until 2022,” said Jefferson. “Now, he says that’s not a political move to make sure he gets re-elected, but it looks a little shady.”

Critics have long called on the removal of the Rizzo statue due to the former mayor’s high records of police brutality, particularly enacted on minority groups.  

“It will move, we don’t know where yet. South Philly seems to be a logical location,” Kenney told WHYY in August. “We’ll see what happens. But with all the things I’m dealing with — from poverty to opioid abuse to schools to education issues — this is the last on my list.”

Kenney also explained that it made more financial sense to wait until the city begins its renovations on Thomas Paine Plaza to to remove the statue.

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Signs

Protesters stood next to the brightly lit tree at City Hall to rally against the mayor's alleged inaction on past promises. | Image: Andrea Cantor

Jefferson and the other protesters challenged the notion that his flip-flopping and inaction on his political platforms are in effort to keep his mayoral seat—but for Philly for REAL Justice that is simply not a good enough reason.

“He has a responsibility to us to keep those words, and he won’t,” Jefferson stated.

TWITTER: @ANDREAJCANTOR

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