Councilman Squilla Discovers Gawker After “White Lives Matter” Article
On Friday evening, Philadelphia City Councilman Mark Squilla learned the hard way what Gawker was after the New York-based blog published an article entitled “Philadelphia City Councilman Attends ‘White Lives Matter’ Rally.” Gawker used the above image of a defiant-looking Squilla speaking into the megaphone at an event that took place in South Philadelphia last Tuesday amid accusations that police failed to respond to an alleged attack at Fourth and Wolf streets. So is Councilman Squilla a closeted Klan member, was he just in the wrong place at the wrong time, or was this simply not a “White Lives Matter” rally? We got him on the phone on Monday to find out.
So you’ve been hanging out at White Lives Matters events, I hear?
You know, I thought it was a joke, because “Philadelphia” was originally spelled wrong in the headline when I first saw it. I just thought it was one of those joke Facebook posts, because people will stoop to any level. Then they tell me that it’s this Gawker thing that they said everybody reads.
Well, they at least read the headlines.
[Laughs] Yes, the article is actually pretty accurate, but the headline is way, way off base. The protest was about lack of services, and the article itself does explain that. But that headline just kept coming up on Facebook again and again, people kept sharing it.
What do you have to do with all of this?
Well, I received a couple calls from some neighbors on the street and said there was a big fight at Fourth and Wolf and that the neighbors are furious and the police don’t take a report.
So I call the police captain and say, “Can you have one of your guys investigate and let me know what’s going on?” Then he has his guy go down and find out what happened. That started the process. South Detectives took some info to see if any charges would be filed, and then the girl who was allegedly attacked filed a complaint with the police for undue service.
So you got the ball rolling for concerned constituents.
Yes. And then we went over to her home, and by that time, it was already in the hands of Internal Affairs. Then we hear they are having a rally, but it was already being worked out through the Internal Affairs process.
What was the scene at the rally when you got there?
Just people from the community who were just concerned about what they thought could have been a lack of service from the police. That’s it. Now after the fact, they say there was supposedly a sign saying “White Lives Matter.” But I didn’t see anything racial. I didn’t hear anything racial. The only thing racial is that the incident was between three black girls and a white girl. That’s it as far as racial things go.
Well, based on the local TV coverage, there were clearly some people with signs and shouting things like “White Lives Matter!”
Not when I was there, but I definitely wasn’t there from the beginning. I didn’t see any sign like that. Maybe a couple of people said something to one reporter, but when I was there, nobody was talking about race until this reporter came up to me and said, “What do you think about the racial attacks?” What racial attacks? Obviously some people were fueling some type of racial problems in there. Because the incident is between black girls and a white girl, it must be racial.
That’s not what this rally was about, though. People were concerned about supposed lack of service from the police. To use that headline was wrong. Maybe I should have called that blogger back, but I didn’t get his message until this morning, because he called at 4:30 on Friday.
Somehow it got spun into this big racial rally. These bloggers have to create interest for people to read their stories, but you shouldn’t make stuff up to get people to read your stuff. The “White Lives Matter Rally” was a lie made up in this kid’s head.
Is this going to make you more careful in the future about your attendance at protest events?
No. Of course, if this were an event about white power or some Ku Klux Klan thing, I wouldn’t go to the event. But that’s not what this was. Would I go to it again? Absolutely. Would I look around and ask people to take down signs if they were offensive? I probably would.
Do you see race as a major factor in your district?
No. I’d be lying to say that there aren’t people who don’t like other races, but I have far fewer race problems than I have with gentrification, people who have lived in the district for a while versus new people moving in, many times of the same color. But the racial incidents in my district are very few and far between.
Do you have a problem with people re-appropriating the “Black Lives Matter” motto for other uses? We’ve seen a lot of “White Lives Matter” stuff in the last several months.
Most people feel that all lives matter. Lives are lives. Everybody’s lives matter. But keep in mind that no one’s life was lost in this particular incident. And someone had a shirt I saw that said “Small Business Matters.” It’s being used for all different things.
Do you just hate the media and Facebook these days?
[Sighs] People call our office all the time. “I read on Facebook that this happened.” Well, it must be true then. Yeah we’ll most definitely run right down there to find out.
Social media is a good thing, but you can get misinformation out so quickly. You can send out rumors on social media and get anything you want started and get people in an uproar pretty quickly.
But the perception is that if it’s out there, it must be true. And even if it’s not out there, people think it’s true. People just make stuff up. One of my constituents said they were upset because they saw the photo on the article that had me speaking on the megaphone with a “White Lives Matter” poster held up behind my head. I told her to send me the picture. And she checks and then she says, Oh, sorry, there isn’t one.
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