Hillary in Philly: Black Lives Matter Protesters Clash With Secret Service
This was the sort of scene Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was hoping to avoid.
Security guards screened entrants to her campaign stop at the Fillmore in Fishtown Wednesday evening, taking a look at the signs the crowd was bringing in. But that didn’t stop a group of protesters from sneaking in very off-message placards, disrupting the rally, and being forcefully escorted out. Also caught up in the expulsion? Me. A credentialed reporter, there to cover the event for this magazine, who was told by the Secret Service that I needed to get out, or risk going home in handcuffs.
It started as a standard, stage-managed campaign event. Smooth-jazz renditions of Beatles hits and Katy Perry — lots of Katy Perry — filled the venue before former Secretary of State Clinton took the stage about an hour behind schedule, at 7:45 p.m. She quickly launched into a discussion of her longstanding ties to the Pennsylvania region, including memories of her father’s home in Scranton. She then acknowledged Senator Bob Casey and former Mayor Michael Nutter, both in the audience, among other dignitaries. After talking at length about the economic growth during her husband’s presidency, things started to get interesting.
Almost seven minutes into her roughly half-hour long speech, a group of about 10 protesters emerged from the audience with small signs that when strung together made up phrases like: “You’re Not Welcome Here” and “Stop Killing Black People.”
Clinton was at center stage, surrounded on all sides by a sea of people. The protesters emerged from her right, seemingly out of nowhere. From my vantage in the press box at the back of the audience, I could see the protesters walking in a single file line toward the exits, holding their placards high in the air.
I skipped over the railing of the press box and followed the group as multiple security and police officers nudged them toward the gates of the building. On their way out, several yelled rhetorical questions: “What about Haiti?”, “What happened in the ’90s?”, “Who’s going to release my uncle?” and, directed at a black security guard, “Old master got you out here?” Once they were forced beyond the gates, the protesters continually chanted “Whose lives matter? Black lives matter!” in unison.
Clinton acknowledged the protesters as they were herded out. “I would go anywhere and meet with anybody to find common ground,” she said.
After security escorted the protesters out of the Fillmore, they lingered by the gates of the facility. I followed them, but stayed on the inner part of the gates, filming as much as I could, and interviewed one of the protesters through the gates, who identified himself as Jason Farmer. He said he was the brother of activist Rufus Farmer, who sparred with Bill Clinton at a campaign event earlier in the month.
“No one is challenging Hillary Clinton to do anything about the harm that she has created. The 1994 crime bill — the president has the power to pardon any federal prisoner. If you look at her racial justice platform, if you look at her criminal justice platform, there is nothing that she mentions about pardoning all of the victims who were wrongly convicted or sentenced under the 1994 criminal justice bill,” Farmer said. “There’s a lot of nice grandiose language about how we need to reduce mass incarceration, but she doesn’t have a real clear angle to do that.”
After speaking to Farmer, I was soon confronted by multiple security and police officers who asked me to leave the building. I was initially called an agitator, despite the bright-green press credentials safety-pinned to my chest. I identified myself as a reporter with this magazine. A white-uniformed police officer told me that I would not be able to get back into the building, so I might as well leave. But he eventually told me to ask the Fillmore security about getting back in, which I did, and was told that I could proceed back up the path that had led me to the exit.
As I did so, I was stopped by a gray-suited, bespectacled man who told me he was Secret Service. I explained the situation — that I had been interviewing the protesters, and was press and now wanted to reenter the venue where Clinton was still speaking. He told me to leave, or if not, suggested I would be leaving in handcuffs. An ultimatum. I chose to exit without my notepad, which I’d left in the press box.
While neither the police nor security personnel were physically aggressive toward me, Asa Khalif, the head of the Pennsylvania chapter of Black Lives Matter, says the protesters were manhandled. (There is some footage of a protester being physically redirected in the video above.) “[The police were] grabbing us by the neck or arms. It was unnecessary, and it was uncalled for. We were just standing there with our signs,” he said, when reached by phone by Philly Mag reporter David Gambacorta. “They roughed us up. [Hillary] went to speak, and we just let her know that Black Lives Matter are not pleased with the outcome of her husband’s decision to sign that crime bill, and her public support of it.”
Once the Clinton supporters started streaming out, the protesters continued to chant, which escalated into a few chest-to-chest confrontations between those who appeared to be Black Lives Matter activists and Hillary Clinton supporters. As I finally walked away from the fracas, a guitarist in the parking lot was playing “A Hard Day’s Night.”
The primary election is Tuesday.