Protesters Invade Penn President’s Party

"Die-in" links Ferguson with university support for Philly schools.

Protesters took over Penn President Amy Gutmann’s holiday party Monday night, demonstrating in support of Philly schools and with recent events in Ferguson and New York on their mind.

The Daily Pennsylvanian reports the activists want Penn to pay a $6.6 million payment in lieu of taxes — known as a PILOT — to the school district. Penn is a tax-exempt institution.

The students, who were members of Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation and SLAP, first laid on the ground for four and a half minutes in memory of Michael Brown, the Ferguson teenager who was fatally shot by a police officer. Caught off guard, Gutmann joined the protesters, lying down on the ground to participate in the “die-in.”

Remarks from protesters linked the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Mo., to racial issues related to the Philadelphia School District, which serves primarily students of color.

“Selective disinvestment in black and brown communities is racism,” SOUL member and College junior Gina Dukes said in remarks addressed to Gutmann during the protest. “Every day that Penn lobbies against PILOTs, it writes a new page in this country’s legacy of racial justice.”

The protesters used the “Occupy Wall Street” style “human microphone” to discuss their demands, seen in this video:

The Inquirer reports, however, that Gutmann — while trying to allay the protests — didn’t sound ready to have Penn start making PILOT payments:

Gutmann told students, “Black lives matter – all lives matter. Black lives have not been served the way I and others would like them to be served,” according to the Daily Pennsylvanian.

When talk turned to PILOTs, Gutmann defended Penn’s position, noting its many contributions, including funding the Penn Alexander elementary school. Some students cut her off.

The protesters have, however, initiated a petition to pressure the university. The party is over, but the debate may be beginning.