In New Sweep, Police Ban Observers & Media from Control Zone in Kensington, Philadelphia

Philadelphia, PA — Philadelphia police officers under orders from the mayor’s office are conducting anti-homeless encampment sweeps early on a rainy Wednesday morning. New hardline mayor Cherelle Parker’s administration banned the media and legal observers from monitoring their sweeps of unhoused people along a stretch of Kensington Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia.

Unicorn Riot monitored the first stages of the sweeps but was forced to leave the cordoned area by police. Unicorn Riot was told by aid workers that police reportedly used force with bicycle teams to clear out legal observers and community outreach workers from Kensington & Allegheny around 6:30 a.m. The area is under both a state of emergency and a blended, enhanced outreach program.

The sweep was announced for 8 a.m. but actually began earlier, around 6:30. Philly police expanded their sweep perimeter to block the Kensington & Clearfield intersection, and some surrounding streets. Camp residents were told they couldn’t return. Members of a missionary group wearing The Rock Ministries vests were heard off-camera praising the sweep: “It’s the cleanest I’ve ever seen it.” One of them was seen wearing a “Stand with Israel” hat.

Mayor Parker has aimed at using The Rock Ministries to create the appearance of spiritual cohesion on top of this displacement project, with a townhall there on May 7. On May 6, Kensington Voice reported that police intend to lean on Kensington ‘chaplain squad’ and ‘Christian facilities’ to move people towards addiction treatment.”

Police positioned metal barricades around the Kensington & Allegheny SEPTA stop before 9 a.m. (However access is currently open to that Market-Frankford Line station.)

The retreat of First Amendment newsgathering press freedoms was presaged in a press release from the city:

“NOTE TO MEDIA: We are not encouraging the media to cover the encampment since the outreach workers are trying to protect the privacy of individuals with whom they are engaging. We would also like to minimize distractions and interference as outreach workers support the resolution. If individuals from the media do attend, there is a staging area for the press at 2900 Kensington Avenue by McPherson Square Park. The media will not be permitted to go beyond the posted perimeters.”

Philadelphia city press release

As Unicorn Riot reported last month there are questions about the role of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office. Previous plans to address addiction and social problems in Kensington have fallen flat for years. Kensington Voice reported May 7 that a “five-phase plan” is unfolding, which today’s sweep is just one component of; there is concern that further police crackdowns are likely.

As of 9:35 a.m. barricades were placed along Kensington Avenue, not just at the ends of the control area; they appear to have been placed to obstruct people from continuing to sleep where they have been sleeping. All business on this stretch of Kensington looks shuttered, with all access closed for likely 6 hours or more. Some residents were let in after officers inspected their ID (lack of access to ID and mailing address is a well-known issue for those experiencing homelessness).

As of 1 p.m. the situation has not changed. It appeared the city was angling to keep and hold the space around the Kensington & Allegheny intersection. The city told corporate media that it would continue to force people from the area for the next 72 hours, and that 36 people accepted treatment during this phase of the project.

Outside of the blocked-off police control zone on Kensington Ave. between Allegheny Ave. and F Street for the anti-encampment sweep, a variety of Philly Police, city employees and contractors are working on nearby streets. A modular city streetsweeper called the Multihog was also spotted in the area.

2:20 p.m. update: Kensington Ave. is open to traffic again, with service vehicles, a squad of bike police and a group of police on foot in the area. At Kensington & Allegheny traffic has been reopened while PPD continues patrols and metal barricades remain along the buildings, physically blocking the site of the tent residences destroyed this morning.

Barricades are now removed from the plaza around the SEPTA stop — they are only placed along Kensington Ave. People were seen checking their bags and are now dispersed south along Kensington Ave. and side streets, while the two blocks remain largely cleared of people. The afternoon weather has shifted to clear sun.

This is a developing story.

Videos by Chris Schiano for Unicorn Riot, and an additional contributor. Afternoon video footage by Dan Feidt.

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