On Thursday evening, over 100 people marching for police shooting victim Eddie Irizarry Jr. rounded the corner of Erie and Whitaker Avenues to find a wall of dozens of police officers waiting for them to arrive.
Irizarry Jr., who was 27 and spoke limited English, was shot and killed by Philadelphia Police Officer Mark Dial while sitting in his car on the 100 block of East Willard Street on Aug. 14. The PPD has since suspended Dial for 30 days with the intent to terminate him for refusing to cooperate with their investigation.
The march marked the end of a long day for Irizarry Jr.’s family and supporters, many of whom had attended a press conference to discuss the police bodycam footage at El Concilio at 11 a.m. A rally, followed by the march from Taller Puertorriqueño to the 24th District headquarters, began that afternoon around 4:30.
Throughout the day, community leaders pushed for increased police accountability and transparency.
Will Gonzalez, the executive director of Ceiba, a coalition of Philadelphia-based Latine organizations, s the coalition wants more leadership from Mayor Jim Kenney and an independent investigation into Irizarry Jr.’s death. Others, including Esperanza’s CEO Rev. Luis Cortés, focused on John McNesby, the president of Philly’s police union, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).
“FOP leader McNesby – who’s never mentioned in any of these meetings – we need you to be part of the solution and not part of the problem,” said Cortés as Irizarry Jr.’s family listened. “...The police department needs to be deployed differently, and you, Mr. McNesby, continue to fight us on police deployment.”
At the press conference, attorneys for the Irizarry family said the 21 minutes of combined bodycam footage shows that Irizarry Jr. was not a threat. It also disproved initial reports from police – which Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw later labeled as "misinformation"– that Irizarry Jr. was outside his vehicle and 'lunged' at police with a knife.
While some speakers like Rep. Jose Giral emphasized that he and other community leaders were not advocating for defunding the police, Cortés and others challenged the effectiveness of the funding the City spent on de-escalation and implicit bias training Philly officers received after the 2020 Black Lives Matters protests.
“What training are we giving officers that obviously doesn’t work?” Cortés said.
According to Shaka Johnson, an attorney representing the Irizarry family, the bodycam footage from Irizarry Jr.’s death demonstrates that police are not adequately trained.
“By anyone's accounting, training is the critical area of how to police certain communities,” Johnson said. “...[The officers in the footage] were adequately trained in self-preservation, but inadequately trained in policing impoverished communities.”
At the rally Thursday afternoon, Robert Saleem Holbrook, the executive director of the Abolitionist Law Center, criticized how the FOP has responded to years-long calls for police accountability and justice.
“The reason why we can’t get accountability is because the FOP prevents that,” Holbrook said. “The FOP sues politicians that attempt to bring police accountability.”
In the last five years, the FOP has filed several lawsuits against the City of Philadelphia. In 2018, they filed a suit against the District Attorney’s Office for maintaining a ‘Do Not Call’ list of officers whose misconduct the DA said made them unreliable as witnesses. In 2020, they also attempted to block an ordinance requiring public hearings for police contracts. Earlier this year, they filed a suit over the Driving Equity law introduced by Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, which prevents police officers from pulling over motorists for minor infractions.
Holbrook, who advocated for structural change to prevent future police shootings, echoed the family’s demands that City officials release the bodycam footage to the public and press charges against Dial.
“I want to stress that we’re here for accountability and transparency,” Holbrook said. “Release the body cam footage tonight.”
Starting around 5:30 p.m., demonstrators carried white roses and Puerto Rican flags through West Kensington’s Golden Block on North 5th Street as residents watched from their window and stoops. One man, wearing a barber cape, stepped out in the middle of his haircut to watch.
Demonstrators chanted, “No justice, no peace” and “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido (the people united will never be defeated)” through the streets as they marched.
At about 6:00 p.m. the march stopped on Willard Street, where Dial killed Irizarry Jr. Reverend Jose Luis Membe, from the Episcopal Church of Christ and Saint Ambrose, led the crowd in prayer. After a moment of silence, Irizarry supporters left their roses in a wooden memorial at the shooting site.
When the demonstration reached the 24th District headquarters, organizers reiterated their demands directly to police officers and leadership.
“We’re going to make sure that everyone gets their justice but we need to have accountability here and that’s coming from this police department that structurally lied,” said Rafael Álvarez-Febo, the vice president for advocacy and community development at Esperanza. “You cannot have trust from us if you lie.”
Demonstrators fanned out, facing the mostly blue-shirt police officers as they vented their frustrations, with only bike lane posts between them. Irizarry’s immediate family members took the mic to speak, making direct eye contact with police.
“For you to have the respect of the community, as police officers, you have to earn it,” said Eddie Irizarry Sr., Irizarry Jr.’s father, in Spanish.
Millie, one of Irizarry Jr.’s aunts, also spoke, focusing her attention on the amount of time that passed between Dial’s patrol car approaching Irizarry Jr. and the sixth and final gunshot Dial fired.
“Shame on you guys for not allowing him to even get a moment,” she said. “He didn’t even get a moment to obey any law or anything that was given to him. Six seconds. Who the hell does anything in six seconds?”
According to the Irizarry family's attorneys, the bodycam footage should be released to the public within the next two weeks.
The FOP has not released an official statement on Irizarry Jr.’s death.
Story edited by Jill Bauer-Reese