Updated 10:05 a.m.
On Tuesday night, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell kicked off her eight term re-election bid with a big bash at The Enterprise Center. The announcement party was well-attended by high-ranking Democrats, district ward leaders and a fleet of supporters from the West Philly district Blackwell has served on Council since 1992.
As supporters sang their final praises of the councilwoman, a group of protesters took the stage — and things got iffy.
The 300-person event would end in a shouting match and allegations that a Blackwell ally made physical and verbal threats. The Philadelphia Police Department confirmed officers responded to calls about a disturbance, but said no arrests were made.
Sometime after 6:30 p.m, close to a dozen members from the Black and Brown Workers Cooperative and other social justice groups disrupted the rally with chants and speeches. The protesters took aim at Blackwell’s relationship with developers in her district — with emphasis on the city’s sale of 4601 Market St. A recent report suggested Blackwell stalled the deal to help a prominent developer.
“She lied to the public when she said they’d be moving forward because she had support to the community,” Shani Akilah, co-founder of the collective, told Billy Penn. Many of the BBWC protesters live in Blackwell’s district, she said.
The councilwoman has maintained that the 4601 Market St. deal has been entirely above board.
Akilah has been calling to “completely dismantle” the long-held tradition of councilmanic prerogative, which gives councilmembers like Blackwell near-total control over zoning and real estate development in their districts.
The tradition has come under renewed fire in light of back-room deals involving city land. Last year, the real estate industry and building trade unions made up half all political donations to incumbent councilmembers.
Threats in the parking lot
The disruption in The Enterprise Center was not received graciously by Blackwell’s allies. Videos of the clash reviewed by Billy Penn show protesters and supporters trying to shout each other down. Organizers said one protester was physically attacked by a Blackwell supporter, but that act was not caught on the video.
Maurice Floyd, a political consultant who is close with Blackwell, said the group was causing “unnecessary drama.” He recalled seeing a small clash between the group as they left the stage — but no blows exchanged.
“I turned around and I just saw a crowd of folks, it was over in less than a minute,” Floyd said. “People were trying to calm them down and then they were escorted out.”
After they exited the event, however, the conflict continued.
Video shows a police officer arriving in the parking lot as Michael Youngblood, a longtime ally of the Blackwell family, began implying that Akilah and other protesters would be subjected to sexual assault.
“You wanna be raped?” Youngblood asks one protester. He then points to another: “You wanna be fucked in the ass?”
It is unclear if Youngblood was directly threatening protesters with sexual assault or suggesting that they would experience it in jail. He could not be reached for comment by publication time. Another man can be seen attempting to calm Youngblood down and escort him away from the police cruiser.
Akilah, who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, alleged Youngblood referred to them as a “faggot” and made the rape threat as an attack on their sexual orientation.
Youngblood’s longstanding ties to West Philly’s political dynasty extend back to former Congressman Lucien Blackwell, the councilwoman’s late husband. He then served as an aide to Jannie Blackwell in the 90s — until he was convicted on extortion and bank fraud case in connection with a homeless shelter project.
Blackwell spokesperson Teresa Lundy said Youngblood was not currently a paid member of the campaign. She called the video of the exchange “a disgraceful verbal altercation.”
“The video that appears to be in circulation does not reflect the campaign of Councilwoman Blackwell as being the ‘People’s Champion,'” Lundy said. “We hope that those seen in the footage see themselves and begin to reflect on their behavior by seeking out ways to be more unified and respectful to every person.”
While short in cash — her last campaign report showed less than $3,000 on hand — Blackwell goes into her eighth term re-election bid battle with the local Democratic party’s full support. In the May primary, she’s slated to face a challenger in Jamie Gauthier, former director of the Fairmount Park Conservancy.
Gauthier’s campaign said it only heard about Tuesday night’s events at The Enterprise Center from news reports.
“The actions reported last night, including threats of sexual violence against women, are deeply disturbing. All Philadelphians should be able to dissent and exercise their right to free speech without being met or threatened with violence,” Gauthier told Billy Penn.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional details about the altercation between Youngblood and the protesters.