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Last week’s “large, militarized police presence” was the attorney general’s office, not a Parker or Kensington caucus initiative

The operation was a drug and firearm seizure through the attorney general's office, according to spokesperson Brett Hambright.

(Photo via the Community Action Relief Project)

Last week, two Instagram posts describing "reports of a large, militarized police presence in Kensington" began making their rounds on social media. The first post, which described "a massive, militarized police sweep," was followed by a second statement authored by a coalition of harm reduction advocates and healthcare workers called the Philadelphia Coalition for Dignity in Treatment. 

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"These officers are initiating newly-minted Mayor Cherelle Parker's policy of neighborhood sweeps, primarily by conducting 'jump-outs' – a paramilitary tactic in which unmarked police vehicles carry multiple officers who detain and arrest people, all while not wearing a standard police uniform," the coalition wrote on Instagram. "Their objective is to harass, intimidate, and arrest people who are unhoused, use drugs, and engage in survival street economies throughout Kensington." 

The coalition's statement also connected the incident to the "triage center" concept recently announced by the Kensington caucus. 

"Upon being arrested, people reported being given the choice of entering substance use treatment or facing incarceration," they wrote. "This escalation coincides with the announcement of a planned Kensington 'triage center' for people who use drugs." 

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But the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office, Mayor Parker's office, and the Kensington caucus have since confirmed that the law enforcement presence was not a Philly-led initiative.

Instead, the operation was a drug and firearm seizure through the attorney general's office, according to Brett Hambright, spokesperson for the attorney general's office.

"This was primarily a fentanyl/cocaine/firearms sting," Hambright wrote in an email Monday morning. "With significant seizures."

According to Hambright, law enforcement seized over five kilograms of fentanyl and one kilogram of cocaine.

Six people were arrested and charged with possession with intent to deliver, racketeer-influenced and corrupt organization, and conspiracy, Hambright said.

(Photo courtesy of the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office)

On Saturday morning, Mayor Parker's office confirmed that the Philadelphia Police Department did not lead the operation.

"It was not a city police department operation," city spokesperson Joe Grace wrote in an email on Saturday.

The four City Council members who make up the Kensington caucus – councilmembers Quetzy Lozada (District 7), Mike Driscoll (District 6), Mark Squilla (District 1), and Jim Harrity (at-large) – also released a statement about the law enforcement operation on Saturday.

"This was a special operation by the Attorney General's Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement serving warrants," the Kensington caucus wrote in a statement. "The Kensington Caucus supports the work of all of our public safety partners and their efforts to restore the quality of life for the residents who call Kensington home."

The Philadelphia Coalition for Dignity in Treatment provided the following response to Kensington Voice via a direct message on Instagram:

"When we drafted our statement, we were responding to a fast-moving situation with visual evidence and detailed reports from reliable, but vulnerable sources and community members on the ground in Kensington. There was a confirmed presence of multiple PPD vehicles as well as individuals in military fatigues. We moved quickly to mobilize a response - elected officials need to know that the eyes of the public are on them when making decisions that put vulnerable communities at risk. Parker, Lozada, and other members of the Kensington caucus are on the record threatening to establish a policy of forcing people who use drugs into treatment or incarcerating them, and re-instituting violent police practices like stop and frisk."

According to the coalition, when they spoke to someone at the 24th Police District, they were told "what was happening wasn't anything new, but was just getting attention now because of social media."

"After much deliberation and labor advocating behind closed doors, we as a coalition felt it was still important to publicize the inhumane tactics being used to remove people who use drugs from the street and put into focus the attack on people who use drugs and are unhoused in our city," they wrote in an Instagram message.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said the Philadelphia Coalition for Dignity in Treatment could not be reached for comment. This story has since been updated to include a response they submitted via Instagram.

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