A local Hebrew Israelite group is in the midst of a court battle with Center City shop owners.
Members of the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge(ISUPK) have conducted weekly protests outside of the shops at Liberty Place in Center City. The group is based in Upper Darby and part of the Black Hebrew Israelites, a religious movement which believes African Americans are descendants of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The group has been labeled as “extremist” and “black supremacists” by several organizations, including civil rights group Southern Poverty Law Center.
Commander General Yahanna, the head of the ISUPK, describes their Center City protests as “shock treatment” designed to stir people into action. The protests, which group members record and post on their school website as well as YouTube, feature members shouting statements such as, “the white man is the Devil.” General Yahanna says the demonstrations are within their first amendment rights.
Shop owners at Liberty Place say they’ve heard enough however. Their lawyers appeared in court on Monday and argued that the group is trespassing and making their private space unusable and impossible to rent. They also say the group’s offensive language frightens customers.
“They preach about how they hate white people and how they hate gays,” said attorney Jason Gosslin. “They’re calling women whores. Really hostile language that makes people feel intimidated and fearful. That’s not protected by the first amendment.”
“We don’t hate white people,” said Commander General Yahanna. “But God hates white people.”
Yahanna says members of his group have never physically harmed anyone at the demonstrations.
“You white people can rest assure,” he said. “We’re not gonna riot. We’re not gonna burn down your cities. What we are going to do though, is fix black and Hispanic people.”
The trial will continue on Friday at 9:30 a.m. Stay with NBC10.com for updates on this developing story.