ICYMI, Philly Police Made Sure to Defend the Free Speech of White Supremacists

Police allowed hate group Patriot Front to harass Philadelphians without much intervention. Compare that to their treatment of Black Lives Matter protesters, and the double standard is galling.

A white supremacist march was met with little police intervention over July 4th weekend. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto)

On the night before your July 4th cookout, nearly 200 masked white supremacists armed with shields, flags and banners flocked to Center City to throw smoke bombs and “Reclaim America.”

It was a scary scene as a handful of counter-protesters from the city fought against a mini-militia that roamed the streets for a while without much police intervention. After running from the counter-protesters, some members were briefly detained before being allowed to flee the city. Members of Patriot Front, a known white nationalist hate group with roots in the violent 2017 “Unite the Right” riots in Charlottesville, Virginia, didn’t put in a request for a city permit — they simply came to Philly to disrupt.

The contrast between the responses from the Mayor’s Office and the Philadelphia police department is rather telling.

“Let me be very clear: Patriot Front is a group that openly advocates for White supremacy,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement to the press. “White supremacy and racism are among the greatest scourges this country has faced since its founding. While we respect everyone’s right to exercise free speech, our administration stands against everything these groups represent. I’m personally appalled and disgusted these groups chose Philadelphia as the place to demonstrate their open hatred. Racism, intolerance, and hate have no place in Philadelphia. We’re monitoring the situation very closely, and the Police Department and other public safety agencies are coordinating to ensure a safe Fourth of July holiday in Philadelphia.”

But clearly, his police department handled the situation with kid gloves.

“As a law enforcement agency, the Philadelphia Police Department is charged with the duty to ensure the safety of individuals who are exercising their constitutional right to speak freely and peaceably assemble,” a spokesperson for the police department told the press in a statement. “After police became aware of escalating tensions between those marching and bystanders on the street, police ensured that the march remained peaceful. Once Patriot Front members concluded their protest and departed the area, officers resumed normal operations.”

That’s it? That’s really how we’re going to assess this situation?

So a group of nearly 200 white supremacists without a permit got to roam free in Center City on a lively Saturday night while chanting “Take America Back,” clashing with residents, and throwing smoke bombs — and the police want to talk about the importance of free speech and how they ensured that the march “remained peaceful”? Fuck outta here. Take a second to imagine how differently things would have gone if those same actions were taken by Black Lives Matter protesters.

Considering that the city is now looking at paying out thousands of dollars in settlements and continues to face lawsuits after the police wrongfully tear-gassed innocent Black Lives Matter protesters and civilians during last summer’s racial uprisings, seeing the police caught up in yet another controversy involving racism is infuriating, if predictable. In 2020, peaceful BLM protesters were arrested and tear-gassed, while in 2021, white supremacists who clashed with counter-protesters and threw smoke bombs were not.

Translation: Our police care more about protecting and serving out-of-town white supremacists who seek to intimidate than they do about the safety of innocent protesters combating such hatred.

This is another textbook example of why Black people like me will never trust the police.

As City Council once again increases police spending, I’m reminded why my tax dollars that help fund our police department are wasted. Hundreds of millions of dollars every year (currently $727 million) are given to an institution that will tear-gas its own civilians for speaking out against white supremacy — but will bend over backward to protect the free speech of a hate group known for racism and anti-Semitism. There’s no way you can make sense of this; it’s such a blatant double standard.

To call for the city to hold the police department accountable at this point is like asking a parent to punish a favorite child. It’s become crystal clear that the department that gets the biggest chunk of the city’s budget is allowed as much free rein as the white supremacists it just let off easily. White supremacy and policing are proving yet again to be in full alignment, and it continues to reflect badly on elected officials who cower behind a veil of neutrality rather than hit the police where it hurts — financially.

Thanks to the soft handling of white supremacists by the police, I fear this won’t be the last time Philly encounters the Patriot Front. And unless things change, history will continue to repeat itself.