Phillies Celebration Turns Ugly

In Uncategorized on November 7, 2008 at 5:52 am

This past Wednesday Philadelphia saw its first major league sports championship since 1983, and the Philadelphia Phillies saw their first World Series Pennant since 1980. After Lidge threw the strike out pitch to end Game 5, I did what many others did in Philadelphia- yell, high five whoever was nearby, and then go downtown to celebrate.

After the Phillies clinched the game, the City of Brotherly Love erupted in celebration. Thousands of Philadelphians poured out of the bars and their homes to celebrate. The impromptu place to meet was Broad Street where a sea of fans swelled. Chants of “Let’s Go Phillies!” could be heard from William Penn’s statue to Temple University. I came into this atmosphere like the rest of them, beer in one hand, a machine gun high five hand with the other, and chanting all the while for the home team.  For awhile it was peaceful. I remember a bizarre Phillies congo line and the pictures with strangers as clear as day. But at some point, for one reason or another, things started to go bad.

In my mind the turning point will always be the image of a guy standing on top of a moving SEPTA bus with a bottle of vodka in his hand (which he eventually threw to his admirers below). It quickly escalated to people scaling light poles to get  the World Series banners that had been put up all along Broad Street. I’m not going to say I was condemning these acts, in fact, I had my own choice words to say to McCain’s Straight Talk Express, which was unlucky enough to be rolling through the mob. Where things really got bad was the destruction that started to take place all along Broad Street.

Planters were knocked over, spilling their contents and breaking them in the process. Newspaper boxes were also a primary target- the streets were littered with  countless Philadelphia Inquirer’s and CityPaper’s. The attacks then began to be directed towards local businesses. Bottles were thrown through the window at Commerce Bank, and people streamed into the lobby before being removed by police. A luggage store was also looted, with thousands of dollars worth of merchandise taken from the store. At least three cars were turned over, and dumpsters were lit on fire. Eventually riot police were called in and I found myself on the front lines of the crowd and the police. The police struggled to contain a crowd that was becoming increasingly hostile and throwing bottles at the officers from afar.

For the most part I was impressed with the way the police handled the crowd. They chose their battles wisely- being outnumbered severely- and only intervened when a fire was set or a store broken into. The worst acts committed by the police were perpetrated by two plain clothed “officers” that went into the crowds to start fights. What should be to the embarrassment of those officers handling the crowd responsibly, I saw a cop of at least thirty years start a fight with a man in his early twenties and then pull his gun out when he retaliated. Later, the same cop and his partner went back into the crowd to start another fight, only this time one of them left with a bloody nose and wounded pride. “Can you believe this?” he asked his partner. “They broke my fucking nose,” he said with a sort of sick laugh. It was one of the laughs a  mobster would have in a movie before he unloaded a clip into someone. Like the worst of the rioters, these two cops were out just to cause destruction.

At this point I would consider it a full-blown riot. No longer could you high five the person standing next to you and a mob mentality began to take hold (on the bright side I think that congo line was still chugging along). The apex of this riot  came when people tried to flip the bus that the police drove  in on, and nearly succeeded in doing so. Soon after the pepper spray came out, and the police were more aggressive in splitting up the crowd.

Shortly afterwards I left the scene and the crowd, which had begun to disperse. Judging by the news coverage in the following days, I had seen the worse of what had happened. Overall, I am still glad I went to the city. When else will an entire city be one big party? And even though that party turned sour, it will  remain a positive memory to me. Besides, now I can check off being in a riot from my list of things to do before I die.  But it will also be a reminder that even the most positive of celebrations can still turn dangerous.


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