Germantown neighbors react to current agitation for social justice
Guys, things are so messed up, I literally don’t know what to say. Well, there’s one thing to say obviously: Black Lives Matter.
After that, I’m stupid and mute. Stunned by what I witnessed, and ashamed that it’s taken a man’s murder on live video for me to truly get it through my head just how urgently we need to act. How important it is to say Black Lives Matter again and again until everyone gets it.
If there’s one ray of hope, it’s how many have heard the call. Racists that are used to tootling their dog whistles on Community Facebook pages are now getting smacked down and even bounced by neighbors who are done tolerating willful, hurtful ignorance. Our own “Rants” page went through a big member purge and even a name change. And still the butt-hurt continues but regardless: it’s over, Johnny.
George Floyd’s killing pulled the curtain back for a clear look at our police state in action. There’s two kinds of white people now: allies for justice and apologists for white supremacy. The time has passed, to argue the semantics of Black Lives Matter. No more “bad apple” bullshit. Either you see the problem or frankly, you’re not to be trusted. Maybe your intentions are good but in this climate, you’re as dangerous as a Nazi sympathizer in 1938.
Oh but the looting! We’ll get to that soon enough, with three different perspectives from around Germantown. But first, a few quick points to make:
- Most protesters are not looters
- Being angry at the system is an appropriate response
- Often outside agitators and even cops instigate violence & looting
Don’t be stupid: no one likes looting, except looters – who btw are often opportunists with no actual affiliation with the movement. Duh: looting your own neighborhood is counter-productive. But must we bring it up every time we talk about the demonstrations? I mean, EVERY time!! How does this help?
How do you think it feels to witness a person who looks like you slowly choked to death by cops on the street in broad daylight? Can we respect the black community’s right to mourn? Can we cut them some slack? Can we offer our support and protection while they struggle with this trauma our toxic culture has inflicted? Must we keep harping on OUR losses?
White privilege says “It’s horrible that an innocent black man was killed, but destroying property has to stop.” We need to flip that around: It’s horrible that property is being destroyed but we need to stop killing innocent black men. Right. Now.
Philly streets erupted in looting the weekend after George Floyd’s murder. By Monday, the chaos had made its way to NW Philly. An ATM was detonated on Midvale Avenue in East Falls, and the Fox Street ShopRite was looted while it was open (!). In Germantown, many biz corridor storefronts were smashed, the sidewalks still strewn the next day with broken glass and refuse. Everywhere, neighbors seemed in a state of shock, disgust and sadness.
What’s going on? What can we do now? Our Gtown editor, Sandy Smith, wrote a piece for PhillyMag where he quoted a woman he overheard outside the ransacked Rite Aid in East Germantown:
“This ain’t about no George Floyd. These are crazy people who took advantage of a situation. I live here. I come here every day. I get my medicines here. Why would anyone trash their own neighborhood like that? I’m black and today, I’m ashamed to be black. They treat us like animals because we act like animals. These n—s done lost their mind.”
Sandy followed up with us in a nuanced ZOOM interview, and then we also shared the quote with two other longtime Germantowners who provided their unfiltered impressions, as well. These are by no means the only opinions worth considering about current events in Germantown! But for all the white folks saying they’re ready to listen, here’s a great place to start. (Scroll down for individual transcripts)
Sandy Smith: Journalist, bon vivant, Ivy Leaguer and proud neighbor in East Germantown, Sandy is also Philly Mag’s current Real Estate & Home editor as well as a vital part of The Local’s editorial team.
Todzsa English: Founder of LiveDecent.org, a local movement for empowered, sustainable living. Todzsa’s a vegan herbalist and urban gardener/forager with mad life skills and zero fucks to give for haters and stupid people. She was born and raised in Germantown, where she still resides. (NOTE: The audio is a little out of sync with the video here, it’s not your connection!)
Dr. Lorenzo Woodson: Social justice columnist for The Local, Dr. Woodson is also a licensed behavior analyst specializing in clients on the autistic spectrum. He’s lived in Germantown all his life.
Please comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s Go! If you’ve got views to share, reach out for a Local Live interview (all you need is ZOOM).
** TRANSCRIPTS **
Sandy Smith 00:00
You know, I did write that column on Philly Mag yesterday, in which I argued that you can be both supportive of the of the rioters and angry at the looters at the same time. Not everybody shares my sentiment, but I think a lot of people share the anger in the looting.
Us: Can you sum up what you said in your article?
Sandy: Well, basically, you know, I mentioned the guy whose Minneapolis restaurant got burned, you know, got torched after left signs saying “Minority Owned” in it. And as he was watching it, burn, he said out loud and his daughter posted on Facebook, “Let my restaurant burn. Justice must be served. Put those put those police in jail.” Wow.
And then I mentioned the woman who came up to me yesterday morning as I was standing, looking inside the looted Rite Aid, where I wasn’t going to be able to get cash for my bank’s ATM, which they tried to break into, but it looks like they didn’t. And she comes up and she immediately goes on a tear. You know? “These are these not Las Salle students, they’re all home. This ain’t about no George Floyd. These are crazy people taking advantage of the situation.” And, you know, “I am black and today I’m ashamed to be black. They treat us like animals because we act like animals.”
And she was a regular patron at the store. She lived right on the other side of it on Wister Street. That was her drugstore, that’s where she gets her medicine. She’s screwed for a while until they fix up the store. And, you know, I’m thankful that they didn’t hit the Fresh Grocer the way they hit the Fox Street store, or, or Park West Shopping Center, which as you know, got torched completely. You know, it’s in a sense cutting off your nose to spite your face and I have to agree with the woman. Why would people trash their own neighborhoods like this?
Do you have an answer for that?
Pure opportunism. Everybody — lots of people want to make a quick buck without having to do anything for it, you know.
I know what happened with the contents of the Rite Aid because somebody I see on my block fairly often approached me with a bag full of OTC medicines. And he had bottles of booze which tells me that the state store in West Chelten must have gotten hit too.
Us: (Yes it did)
You know, it’s pure opportunism. We can’t do anything else. Now, you know, this is an area where probably Left and Right will differ the Right will tell you that what we need to do is, you know, make sure there is order, discipline, deep policing, yada, yada. And the Left will tell you what these people need are jobs. And I think like I said in my essay here, too, they’re both right.
The looters are able to take advantage of the situation because the police are stretched thin, you know, dealing with protesters and other things and all that stuff on Saturday. But at the same time, we have all these people out here scrounging for a buck because they’re not able to earn a buck legitimately. I mean, I don’t know what the unemployment rate is in my little corner of East Germantown. I suspect it’s higher than the statewide or citywide averages.
Have you seen Mark Lamont Hill’s video about the difference between rioting and rebellion?
I have not and maybe I should. I don’t know how he would characterize it here. I don’t think it’s a rebellion. You know, things were pretty peaceful until the anarchists and their ilk set things off in Center City. And I’m actually kind of pissed at them because, in essence, they’re hijacking an agenda for their own.
We have a legitimate issue, which is that cops way too often seem to ignore/deny/what have you our humanity, when they stop us because they think we might be doing something wrong or because we did something. You know, as somebody pointed out, this guy passed a bad $20 bill. For that he should pay with his life? You know, what’s the saying? The punishment should fit the crime. It didn’t there.
And at least historically, when cops have been in situations like that, they’ve gotten off the hook. That’s only now beginning to change. And that’s in part because folks have gotten so pissed off. They’re getting ugly. They’re taking into the streets. You’ve probably heard that lesser known Martin Luther King quote that’s gotten unearthed because of the riots in Minneapolis. “A riot is the voice of the unheard.”
That was Martin Luther King in 1967. That’s toward the end of his life, right? Right. Somebody asked me why we still talk about things that happened half a century or more ago in the country. And I say this because in this country, the losers didn’t quit when they lost We let the losers write the history of the Civil War. We let them back in after we got tired of keeping them in their place after Reconstruction. You know, we have cycles of progress and cycles of retrenchment. and there seem to be triggering events. And in retrospect, it looks like the election of Barack Obama — which was a high watermark– was also a triggering event. And we can’t escape it.
Which is not the same as saying, as a friend of mine said, “It keeps getting worse and worse and worse…” That’s also not true. We’re disproportionately poor still, sure. But the middle class is the biggest it’s ever been. Legally-mandated segregation is a thing of the past and there’s no sign that it will return. Our vote is protected even though the Supreme Court has chipped away at some of those protections. You know, we can go to even the best colleges in the country. So to say that, you know, “Everything’s gotten worse” is equally untrue.
But as we progress, the problems that persist become all the more intolerable. I’m hoping this is right. I’m fearing it may not be, but I hope it is, is that we now have some people who are living in the city who are invested in its survival, who aren’t necessarily looking at the danger in purely racial terms. You know, I think that there are a lot of white folks who seem not to have gotten the message that there are a lot of black folks who are no more happy about this than they are. You know? Like that woman. I ran into at the Rite Aid.
Right, well, how did she make you feel when she was saying about how she’s ashamed? Like how does that resonate on you?
Um, I felt it was maybe just a little harsh, but I understood where she was coming from. It’s one thing to too, you know… Let me put it this way, okay. If I’m going to compare acts of violence: that wasn’t setting a Minneapolis police station on fire. That was a properly directed act of violence. They picked the right target. Okay.
You know, looting a drug store that your neighbors depend on for their everyday goods/needs is harmful to your neighbors, counterproductive, and it muddles the message. You know, I just read something about looting on 52nd Street, you know. And most of the businesses that got trashed and looted there were small independently-owned businesses owned by blacks. Wow.
If they were really interested in the movement for black empowerment, why would they loot their own? The person who offered me the medicines and whatnot, I don’t I don’t think I’ve spoken with him and I don’t think I’ve ever heard him speak at that length on police brutality, or systematic racism or any of that good stuff.
Todzsa English 00:00
All the people out there who keep saying “What’s rioting gonna solve,” what’s, you know, you know I mean I don’t know. They’re stealing the stuff whatever — See? I don’t get into it because I say: Look. I don’t really give a shit if you can, like, put a method to the madness. We’re all mad here. And the powers that are in control are the worst kind. And the people who own the stores, by and large, that they are destroying and looting and burning down are owned by those people.
So I don’t give a fuck if they burn the whole motherfucker to a crisp, personally. Because I get it. What I have a harder time understanding is, what’s keeping those of us who ain’t out there tearing up, not! God, it’s so — it is very stressful existing, for me. Honestly, because the duality. It’s like when they say “Ignorance is bliss.” Most people you know they understand that, but not the magnitude of what that means.
You only really start to understand the more you understand a lot of other things collectively. How much better off you were when you were just “Doot dee doot dee dooooo….whatever!” Why so much racism goes like “Oh, we just making this shit up. Oh, that’s a one off event so not so couple bad cops.” No, fuck that. You ain’t been payin’ attention. Because you haven’t wanted to. Yeah, and I don’t blame you. Honestly. Why the fuck would you want to address that shit? That’s some horrible-ass shit!
This brings me right back to why I’m so uncompromising with playing to people’s sensitivities and sugar-coating and kitty-pawing everybody on everything, I’m not going to do it because I do recognize that it is dangerous to do that. And whether you can understand it or not, is not where — I’m not getting fucked by somebody else and I can’t… You got to find somebody else to start from scratch with you. I’m not there and I don’t have time for it, you know.
I think so much hurt and pain and you know, stealing and raping and pillaging and genocide has been done globally to all natural native Aboriginal people that you know, everything is so sensitive. Like, you — because you can’t it’s like um, Muhammad Ali said, you know if it is if when he was asked about you know, “All white people aren’t, you know, bad or racist?” And he said, “Well, if this is a horde of 10,000 poisonous snakes coming towards me, and you know, one or two of them are good, am I supposed to leave the door open? And wait to see, to make sure, see which one of ’em ain’t gonna bite me? Like hell no, fuck ’em, fuck them all!
And this is so oh, God is so horrible to have to like, be like that. But for survival you have no choice. And it’s not because – You know, a poisonous snake isn’t dangerous until he bites you.
Now if you go under his feet and into his burrow and you fuckin with him and you pokin sticks and shit, you ruining his eggs and shit. And then you said he’d bite your ass — You got what you deserved! Don’t be, you know, vilifying them snakes and shit! You fuckin’ fucked with him and poked him. You bitch ass. You got what you got.
But that’s not been the case for black and brown people that are on this planet. We weren’t in nobody’s borrow pokin and fucking with them. Yeah So, you know, in 10,000 poisonous snakes only, it might only be three — shit, it might only be one of them going around biting people for no goddamn reason. But now I got to go snake hunting.
And you know, I know it sounds like a whole bunch of tree hugging Kumbaya bullshit, but ultimately, I don’t see how it’s going to be any better. If we don’t start to understand that we’re all the same. Like, yes, we have differences, but none of them actually mean anything. Like somebody said on Facebook or not, ugh. It’s so hard to scroll past some of these posts, I’m telling you. And they say something about – “Y’all just out here, tearing up everything,” you know, “How are we supposed to get our groceries? Y’all just ain’t shit. Now we ain’t gonna have nothing.”
And these are black people, a lot of them. It’s like mixed white people and black people saying this. But it’s just sad with me because I’m like, that’s the — see, if you didn’t rely so heavily on the government or whoever to provide you with your basic necessities for life, the dumb shit that they doing out here wouldn’t even matter, it wouldn’t affect you at all. Now that shit is hitting the fucking fan. You are almost a — you know, you’ve rendered yourself useless, as far as trying to get there. You fucked up already, you should have been trying to, you know — You should have been preparing, because now you in the clutch.
Dr. Woodson 00:40
Hmm. I’d like to find out how old this woman was. I’d like to find out how old she was because sometimes we get caught up in these paradigms. The old way of thinking against a new way of thinking and acting. And then some people are just complacent. So people are complacent and they don’t try to find time to understand the full context of what is happening.
You know, LaSalle has been living the…I grew up around LaSalle, they’ve been making money hand over fist in this community. And they have not put back into the community in such a way. And they’re a Christian college, the separation of church and state, they take federal dollars.
You think their education department…they get degrees and bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees you think they would join with the community schools around here say, hey, let’s be involved in the community so that we can be safe. So in case a riot happens that people would have some respect for LaSalle. LaSalle cuts off a corridor where people used to ride their cars up. But they wanted a secure space so they cut off the whole street — Greg Paulmier and I used to protest against that.
You know, they just buy land and they’re part of the gentrification. Now if that woman lived there all those years. Where was she in stopping that? Where was she? You know you want to say you’re not proud to be black? Well, then I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t know what to tell you. Because I’m proud to be black. And I’m glad that this movement is happening. I couldn’t give two shits about CVS and two shits about RiteAid that they got some graffiti written on their wall. I couldn’t care less about it.
You know, she needs to open up her mind and really dig into the context of what’s happening and why young people are unemployed, and why young people don’t have a school to go to. What do you expect? She’s part of the problem. She’s not part of the solution. It’s easy to criticize. It’s easy to say what you’re not proud of — but then go somewhere. Crawl under your rock and stay there. Because right now young people are tired of you.
It’s not supposed to be a game of old against young, we’re supposed to be sharing old history with the new history. We’re supposed to be building that ladder. And it’s not about shame. You’ve been shamed enough and now you want to accept it as your paradigm of thinking. What are you swallowing? What pill did you swallow? That means you’re spitting in Martin Luther King’s face.
When you say you’re ashamed to be black, who are you catering to? You should never be ashamed to be black and should never be ashamed to protest. And everything that gets destroyed can be renewed with some sense of understanding. Understand why your child in your home is writing on your wall. Understand why your child is running away from home. Understand why your child is telling you “You don’t understand me.” You just beat him down by continuing to perpetuate the same self-fulfilling prophecy that you’re nothing?
After all the history, you’re going to stand here today, just because somebody wrote on the prescription store that you got to get your prescription from? But you was having a problem with getting prescriptions anyway! You was having problems with healthcare anyway. You was having problems with the price of paying for prescriptions at that store and they weren’t catering to your ass in the first place. And you want to say to me, and to everybody, you’re ashamed to be black. I say stick your head in the sand. Because there’s a place for people like you. In this day and time there’s a place for ignorance, and that’s poverty.
And I respect older people as my elders, but that kind of talk is based off of a lineage of ignorance. And I don’t know whether she had a high school education or not but that kind of framework and spewing that kind of stuff — that feeds right into the system’s hands. Look, they’ll pick her out of out of all the black intelligent people and bring her on television and say something to make people feel like that’s supposed to be legit. She’s way out of line. She’s way out of line. That’s my take on her.
East Falls Stands with #BLM — A family-friendly demonstration of solidarity for People of Color. Meet at McMichael Park at 7pm on Monday June 8th for a brief gathering and 8 minutes of silence around the War Memorial.