PlanPhilly

Protests target West Philadelphia Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell

Sheriff’s deputies arrested an activist in Philadelphia City Hall after the Brown and Black Workers Cooperative disrupted a City Council meeting.

The group interrupted the Thursday meeting with demands to end councilmanic prerogative, the political norm that gives district councilmembers control over public land sales, street regulations, and zoning maps in their territory.

Sheriff’s deputies quickly surrounded the activists.

One of the founders of the cooperative, Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, said “this is a f-----g police state,” as police removed him in handcuffs.

Shani Akilah, another co-founder of the collective, shouted as law enforcement officers surrounded her.

“Who are they building for? Not us, not us,” Akilah said. “We demand an end to councilmanic prerogative. People are dying. People are losing their homes. This is about the poor and working-class Philadelphians who can’t speak for themselves.”

The group also protested West Philadelphia councilmember Jannie Blackwell’s re-election launch on Tuesday evening. 

Videos from the event show one former Blackwell aide, Michael Youngblood making vulgar comments about alleged sexual activities and rape to one of the activists.  

Blackwell is facing a serious challenge for the first time in years from Jamie Gauthier, formerly of the Fairmount Parks Conservancy. 

The incumbent, who has held her seat for 27 years, said she didn’t know why the group is campaigning against her.

“I don’t even know them,” said Blackwell. “They've been seen getting on the El going to other neighborhoods, so I don't know them, they don't live in my area.”

The Brown and Black Workers Collective did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The group first began protesting Blackwell during negotiations over the redevelopment of 4601 Market Street.

The Black and Brown Workers Cooperative accused Blackwell of being in cahoots with the site’s developer, Iron Stone Realty Partnership.  

PlanPhilly reporting revealed she actually held up the land sale to aid a different developer.

City councilmembers argue that councilmanic prerogative allows them to address constituent concerns, and steer land towards neighborhood-friendly uses like affordable housing or community gardens.

The alternative, they say, would be to turn over land use and zoning decisions to an unaccountable municipal bureaucracy.

“District council people are elected, to represent the community,” said Blackwell.“That’s one of the advantages of longevity. I have no idea why dealing with zoning, dealing with community groups [would cause protest]. That’s one of the greatest things about being a district councilperson.”

Critics have long maintained that councilmanic prerogative allows council people opaque powers that can be traded for political favors or campaign contributions.

A 2015 Pew study noted that all six council members convicted of wrongdoing since 1981 went down over offenses related to their control of land.

About the author

Jake Blumgart, Reporter

Jake Blumgart is PlanPhilly's planning, development, and housing reporter. He covers the city's built environment and the people who live and work there. He lives in Cedar Park and has also contributed to Slate, CityLab, Next City, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine, and the American Planning Association's magazine. Follow him on Twitter @jblumgart and email him at jblumgart@whyy.org.

 


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