Controversial Protest Group Moves in on Market Street

Shop Owners at The Shops at Liberty Place have been struggling to put an end to the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge's (ISUPK) weekly protests outside of the mall's entrance at 16th and Chestnut for more than a year.

After taking legal and musical action, Liberty Place was finally able to rid the area of the loud, and often offensive protesters with the simple installation of a bike rack.

"They went and got permits so if you go over there now its bike racks and flower pots and all of that over there," Israelite member Mawaqad Yahawahad said. "All of that so we couldn't speak."

Liberty Place shop owners originally sued the Black Israelite group in 2013, but a Philadelphia judge ruled in favor of the group's right to freedom of speech.

Liberty Place recently hired a DJ in an attempt to drown out the protesters who use microphones and speakers to blast their messages to those passing by.

Yahawahad said the group was forced to relocate, not because of the DJ that Liberty Place hired, but because the mall had "street furniture" installed in the sidewalk space where the group normally protests.

According to the City's Managing Director's office (MDO), The Shops at Liberty Place did obtain a permit for the installation of street furniture (bike racks, etc.) from the Mayor’s Office of Transportation & Utilities and the Streets Department.

The group, which also holds regular protests at other locations throughout the city including, City Hall and Broad and Erie Ave, has now taken their controversial demonstrations from one major shopping center to another: The Gallery at Market East at 9th and Market St.

According to the mall's website, more than 40,000 people enter The Gallery each day.

With the move, the group may have effectively increased its audience reach, but they don't seem to have improved their likeability among people who pass by the area.

Late Friday afternoon, Black Israelite officer Sakawar approached the microphone on a raised stage in front of The Gallery entrance, and implored people not to celebrate Mother's Day.

"If you call us evil for telling you that God hates Mother's Day, then deception is covering you. Evil women should not be celebrated on Mother's Day," Sakawar said.

"Brothers get up with different topics, but the main thing that we wanted to focus on today was that Mother's Day is not in the bible. It's like idol worship and we want to educate our people on how to live," Yahawahad said.

North Philadelphia native Kevin Pittman said he disagrees with most of the group's teachings.

"I don’t like it. I don’t understand it. They have a right to their opinion, you know, freedom of speech, but I don’t agree with what they say. I don’t believe in what they are saying about Mother's Day. To me, Mother’s Day is every day," he said.

Anthony Stanley, 58, said he agrees with some of the group's teachings.

"Some of the things they say are true and some of it is not true. Mother's Day should be every day if you ask me. So, no, we shouldn't celebrate it. But if you want to celebrate it that should be up to you," he said.

Despite some groanings from the public, MDO representative Jazelle Jones said, unless the demonstration violates the City's permit policy, the MDO will, for the most part, approve every application they receive.

"It's a regular application and we typically approve them all. These are folks' first amendment rights so folks are pretty much free to do what they want as long as they're orderly," Jones said.

"We don't manage content either. I guess folks say that the kinds of things they say is offensive, but we don't get into that."

Jones also noted, that the City only requires a permit if the demonstration or event participant count exceeds 75 people. She added that the Black Israelite group likely obtains the permits to have some sort of assurance that they will not be forced to move.

Whether The Gallery plans on hiring any DJs or installing any street furniture to thwart the protesters remains to be seen. A representative from the mall's management company, the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), was unavailable for comment.

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