Why the Co-Owner of One of Philly’s Favorite Taquerias Was in Jail Yesterday

Demonstrators yesterday (left); demonstrator Lluli Pilar's daughter, Fernanda, with her father, Juan Carlos Romero, as Pilar was arrested. Photos | Sabrina Vourvoulias

Demonstrators yesterday (left); Lluli Pilar’s daughter, Fernanda, with her father, Juan Carlos Romero, as Pilar was arrested. Photos | Sabrina Vourvoulias

The simple story is this: Yesterday, for about an hour or so, the I-676 ramp at Vine street was blocked by a 13-year-old boy, a college student, a minister and the co-proprietor of a popular taquería (which won “Best of Philadelphia” accolades in 2011 and 2012), all of them literally and figuratively united in their call for a freeze on deportations.

On the sidelines (streets, median and sidewalks) supporters from Juntos, Make the Road PA, Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition and just ordinary folks gathered to chant in English and Spanish; media scrambled to get close enough to take photos of the protestors linked arm-to-arm by reinforced tubing; and law enforcement personnel from a number of different units, including a counter-terrorism squad, figured out what to do (and how to block the sight of what was happening from all those without the privilege of press credentials). 

After issuing three warnings in English and Spanish, police cut through each connector tube with a Dremel saw, cuffed the protestors one-by-one, loaded them into a police van and took them to the 9th Police District where they were cited for obstruction and released three hours later.

When Lluli (pronounced Yoo-lee) Pilar — the co-proprietor of the original award-winning Taquitos de Puebla on 9th Street which was shuttered two months ago — was cuffed and loaded into the police van, her 6-year-old daughter Fernanda burst into tears. It was impossible to watch the inconsolable child and not realize that this was heartbreakingly similar to scenes repeated everyday — when ICE agents cuff and remove undocumented immigrant mothers and fathers in front of their U.S. citizen children — and was exactly what the four people blocking the street were protesting. Read more »

Op-Ed: Justin Timberlake Isn’t a “Cultural Appropriator”

Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP

Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from guest writer Evon Burton.)

During Sunday evening’s BET Awards, actor and Temple alum Jesse Williams accepted the President’s Humanitarian Award and gave one of the most rousing acceptance speeches of all time. One of the many enamored by Williams’ words was triple-threat superstar Justin Timberlake. I, like most of Black Twitter, was a bit caught off guard by his well-intentioned tweet about it, since he has chosen to stay rather silent on issues affecting African Americans, a pattern we have seen quite frequently across America. However, as an aficionado of R&B music, the reactions of Black Twitter were more alarming and concerning to me.

Timberlake broke the internet when he retweeted and responded to local journalist, colleague and friend Ernest Owens’ critique of his “cultural appropriation” and the Janet Jackson Super Bowl incident. While I agree that Timberlake could have been much more vocal on behalf of Janet Jackson, when it comes to music, he isn’t a “cultural appropriator.” Not in the least bit. He’s just one of the many “privileged” Caucasian artists who have benefitted from a white-run media landscape while truly honoring his musical influences that are primarily African-American. Big difference.

Read more »

Justin Timberlake Basically Told Me All Lives Matter Last Night

Justin Timberlake

Yes, I’m the guy who called out Justin Timberlake on Twitter.

It all started Sunday night. I was watching the BET Awards and was beyond impressed with an acceptance speech by actor/activist (and Temple alum) Jesse Williams, who had just been honored with the Humanitarian Award for being an exceptional entertainer turned social justice activist.

This part of the speech really stood out to me: Read more »

After the Latest Freddie Gray Acquittal, All I Feel Is Numb

Officer Caesar Goodson (left) on the day he was acquitted of murder charges in the death of Freddie Gray (right).

Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. (left) on the day he was acquitted of all charges in the death of Freddie Gray (right).

What more can you write, post, scream, cry, cuss and pontificate about after a while? At some point, there’s a leaden numbness that creeps into the blood when these moments announce themselves. They’re like bizarro action movies; the whole narrative is reversed, and while we experience the same series of fake climaxes and plot twists, by the time of the denouement, you feel foolish, remembering and realizing that when you sat down to watch this play out, the outcome was never in question.

That’s what Freddie Gray’s death and court proceedings surrounding it feel like to me: the predictable outcome to a decidedly fucked-up action film. As the latest verdict was handed down involving Gray’s death, that old feeling came crawling back again. The initial incident literally set Baltimore ablaze, confounding many people inside and outside the city as to why so many blacks would feel inclined to protest so much, so angrily, so loudly and so violently. In that sense, that’s when the country feels the most unflatteringly colorblind; an entire nation, it seems, incapable of understanding what could be troubling people to act out in such a manner, taking to the streets in protest.

It can be hard to appreciate that those moments aren’t only about Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner. It can be hard to understand that black people in this country are intimately familiar with injustice. These murders don’t represent mere incidents of injustice, of “he said, authority said” narratives; these represent a legacy in the country so old it makes these situations preordained. We’ve been here before is what I’m saying. The constant exoneration and adulation of law enforcement makes sense if it’s never been a cudgel used against you.

I remember being a child in elementary school, drawing and coloring policemen: the bright smiles, the shiny caps, the impeccable uniforms and the billy clubs that seemed more likely to be used to shoo away dogs or, at worst, winos. I remember a school field trip to a police station; donning one of those uniform caps, the adult-sized hat falling over my eyes and me playfully tilting it back so that I could see. Sitting in the passenger seat of a cruiser as an officer showed me how the radio dispatch worked; clapping and laughing with my classmates when the stationary cruiser’s sirens were turned on, blue-red-blue-red-blue-red-blue-red whipping across our faces. Read more »

Own a Firearm? Get a Goddamn Gun Lock

GunLock

Photo by iStock.com

A 4-year-old girl died in North Philadelphia yesterday after a bullet exploded through her head.

Think about the violence of that sentence for a second. A child — a baby, really — met the kind of death you’d normally associate with a soldier on some hellacious battlefield. Whatever possibilities her future held were gone in an instant on a muggy summer afternoon.

Philadelphia Police Department spokesman Lt. John Stanford said today that it appears the child died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. She was at home with her mother and 3-year-old sister when her life ended in a sudden thunderclap.

Read more »

SCOTUS Deadlock on Obama’s Immigration Plan: Shameful and Wrong

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On November 20, 2014, Philadelphians at Taquitos de Puebla watched President Obama announce his plan to provide deportation relief to undocumented immigrants. | Photos by Sabrina Vourvoulias

One of my most vivid memories in recent years is of the evening of November 20th, 2014, when I was in an overcrowded South Philly eatery watching television. President Barack Obama was on the air, announcing that he was taking executive action to offer temporary deportation relief to an estimated 4 million undocumented people via programs that helped undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents (known was “Deferred Action for Parents of Americans,” or DAPA) as well as undocumented people who arrived in the country before age 16 (extended “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” or DACA+).

Inside Taquitos de Puebla on 9th Street, the atmosphere was electric with hope. Those who qualified would be able to get out of a shadow economy that relies on their labor without according them any protections, and conduct their daily lives without the soul-crushing fear that at any moment agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement could swoop down to deport them.

Almost immediately, the president’s executive actions were challenged legally, and for two years those people with whom I had celebrated that November night carefully banked their hopes and waited as the legal case wound its way through the lower courts to the Supreme Court.

This Thursday, those hopes were dashed after the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 on the issue, a non-decision that effectively lets the lower court’s injunction stand. Read more »

What the SCOTUS Ruling on Police Searches Means for Philadelphia

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday (in the 5-to-3 decision on Utah v. Strieff) that evidence secured by police as the result of an unconstitutional stop may, in fact, be used against a defendant — something that the exclusionary rule has, until now, prevented. Under the exclusionary rule — as we all know from watching Law & Order — the evidence would be “fruit of the poisonous tree” and considered tainted by the illegal stop and search.

But no more. Or at least no more if the police officer can search and find an outstanding warrant on the defendant. Read more »

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