Image: City Safari: The Fishtown arrests

Vigilante poster. 

This year the city arrested a man involved in the vigilante defense of Fishtown’s 26th Police District on June 1, 2020 during the George Floyd riots.  

On June 1, 2020, a group of Fishtown men, some armed with baseball bats, formed a line of defense in front of the police station when protesters gathered there to protest police brutality. Since nearly all the George Floyd-related protests in the city had been peaceful before turning violent, the neighborhood men claimed they came to assist the police because they had been informed that looters were headed to the police station  

Richard “Richie” Goodwin, 45, was arrested for allegedly throwing a man off his bicycle after the man and his girlfriend rode by the District station and raised their fists in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. WHYY reported that the couple was on their way home after being tear-gassed during another large protest when Goodwin “violently threw the man off his bicycle and onto the ground before repeatedly punching him in the head until his ear and face bled.” 

Goodwin no doubt perceived the couple’s raised fists as an affirmation of the riots that had crippled the city for several weeks. The destruction caused by the Floyd riots was so far reaching that the issue for many Philadelphians in June 2020 was not “racial justice” but serious concerns for the welfare of their home and families.   

The young couple who raised their fists in front of the 26th Police District had been part of a protest that attempted to shut down I-676. NBC 10 reported on that protest: “The massive crowd, protesting the death of George Floyd, first gathered at Philadelphia police headquarters near 8th and Race streets Monday afternoon. The crowd then marched south to Independence Mall and then west along Market Street. Around 5 p.m. the protesters entered the Vine Street Expressway, shutting down the highway that bisects Center City. Traffic was halted in the middle of rush hour. Responding officers used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowd.”

Richie Goodwin’s arrest was the result of a special investigations unit formed by DA Larry Krasner’s office. The D.A.'s office spent almost one year collecting evidence from the public after the 26th Police District protests to pursue charges against those responsible for a number of violent attacks.

Another Fishtown vigilante, George Graf, was arrested at his home in June 2020 and charged with aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy to engage in aggravated assault, simple assault and reckless endangerment while attending the same vigilante action in front of the Fishtown police station. The man that Graf endangered was WHYY producer-activist Jon Ehrens, who was not on assignment at the time but happened to be recording and tweeting what he saw and overheard during the confrontation between the men with baseball bats and the antipolice protesters. (The antipolice protesters were described by the local press as “Fishtowners” when actually they were millennial transplants from other cities, worlds away from anything resembling “indigenous Fishtowners.”)

Citizen- activist Ehrens’ multiple tweets describe the mounting tension in front of the Fishtown police station:  

“Huge congregation of agitated white people with bats, golf clubs and Billy clubs. n-words flying. overheard: “I’m ready to f-ck shit up. you know I’ve been looking for a fight for the past 6 months.” 

“Dude with a sledgehammer just showed up,” Ehrens tweeted again. “They just announced they are all heading to Frankford and Girard. One dude yells, ‘There are no rules tonight.’”  The producer/activist then warns: “They are back on Girard, one guy brandishing an axe. “ And then: “Why aren’t the police arresting them? Why are they so fat and stereotypical looking?”

Ehrens’ tweet, “Why aren’t they arresting them?” deserves some comment.

That question could just have easily come from the families of the men with baseball bats when the businesses in their neighborhood were boarded up or burnt during the long days of rioting. After all, city rioters got the best of the police for almost two weeks during the summer of 2020, causing many people in the neighborhoods to ask:  “Why aren’t they arresting them?”  

Antipolice protesters tweeted responses to Ehrens, calling the “white men” (with baseball bats) domestic terrorists while seeming to have no concept of the “terrorism” committed by many of the rioters.

While the men with baseball bats may be seen as crude and impolite thugs, the truth is that they were not so out of control that they needed National Guardsmen to keep them in check. The George Floyd rioters needed National Guardsmen to keep them from burning down even more sections of the city.     

As for Ehrens’ tweet about vigilante stereotypes, many of the “white” men with baseball bats were indeed pot bellied (a diet of junk food and too many cheese steaks?), while many of the protesters were stereotypically vegan thin, anemic looking and sickly pale. The indigenous “white” men with baseball bats represented, to a very small degree, the neighborhood’s blue-collar contractor-roofer history; men who for the most part grew up working with their hands and to whom a street fight had always been the normal way to settle “issues.” These men of blunt opinions are not always likeable. They are rough men who have probably never seen the inside of the Academy of Music or attended a play at the Walnut Street Theater, yet this doesn’t mean they don’t have excellent instincts when it comes to protecting their homes and families from marauding rioters and anarchists.  

Graf was one of 3 or 4 men who attacked Ehrens, causing the WHYY producer to be taken to the hospital and treated for a broken nose and maxilla. After the media picked up Ehrens’ story, two weeks of George Floyd rioting-- burned out restaurants, stores and exploding ATMs-- seemed to be stuffed down the Memory Hole, replaced by the narrative of bad “white” men with baseball bats fighting against good and noble people doing all they could to eradicate racism. 

"Last night, a group of people in Fishtown took it upon themselves to make a show of protecting their neighborhood," Mayor Kenney stated. "They picked up baseball bats and, in turn, exemplified the deep divides in our community. Their actions were antagonistic and made a bad situation worse. We do not condone vigilantism. We understand a community's desire to protect [its] neighborhood, and if they want to do that in peace, we would allow it, regardless of neighborhood. But armed vigilantism will not be tolerated moving forward." 

The Fishtown men wielding baseball bats were deplorable. Throwing people off bicycles or breaking the noses of protesters (even when those protesters side with rioters) can never be justified. It is abhorrent. But just like in a real war where boundaries are rarely respected (when women, children and civilians get injured or killed), there was a “war” in Fishtown and in other city neighborhoods in June 2020 because many Philadelphians  felt that their homes and families were under attack from anarchists.  

Since the police weren’t doing much to bring peace to the city, it is understandable how some neighborhood residents would want to form vigilante groups as the first line of defense against the anarchists.

It’s interesting to note that in the lengthy tweets between Ehrens and his activist friends there seems to be an inherent bias against working class blue collar people -- traditionally classified as rednecks or yahoos. While leftist activists claim they are for every form of equity, the men protecting the police station were seen by the protesters as subhuman racist Trump supporters.  

The arrests of Graf and Goodwin attracted a fair amount of publicity in the city, enough to make a sensible person ask: Is the public’s memory so short? While violence is never the answer, the fact remains that the Philadelphia press, most notably The Philadelphia Inquirer, showed some sympathy for the anarchists arrested for violent activity during the 2020 George Floyd riots, while showing zero empathy (how they came to do what they did) for Goodwin or Graf. 

“During the month of protests against police brutality in Philadelphia, more than 750 people were arrested for curfew violations, failure to disperse, and disorderly conduct. Many were handcuffed, taken to remote police districts, and kept in hot cars or buses for hours — some so long they urinated on themselves or began pleading for water. Then, they were released not with criminal charges but civil citations, the type of ticket given for high weeds or litter,” The Inquirer reported.

The mayor’s announcement that the code-violation notices issued to protesters from May 30 to June 30 would be waived was further proof that the city was giving the anarchists and rioters a break.

“My decision to waive these violations is not a statement on the validity of the individual citations,” Kenney stated. “Rather, it is recognition of the core concerns that caused thousands to demonstrate on the streets of Philadelphia. In waiving these notices, I recognize that those issues are vitally important, that the pain of those marching is very real.”

The mayor’s statement made it clear that only one form of pain was being recognized. This was not the pain of city residents who had the rioters in their backyard or across the street, or who couldn’t go shopping for weeks or had to abide by nightly curfews.  

The mayor himself might as well have been saying, “No justice, no peace.”

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