“F the Police:” Debate over chants at Black Lives Matter protests reveals divide in Allentown City Council

Written by on August 6, 2020

 “F the Police:” Debate over chants at Black Lives Matter protests reveals divide in Allentown City Council 

By Tyler Pratt

August 6, 2020

Photo | Ben Stemrich / WLVR

Calls for the resignation of Allentown city leaders over Black Lives Matters protests were the focus of debate at last night’s City Council meeting. Councilmembers and residents have been at odds for weeks over police reforms. And as WLVR’s Tyler Pratt reports, the night’s heated discussion revealed a growing divide on racism and speech in the Lehigh Valley.

[Disclaimer] A note to listeners, this story includes references to explicit language that may not be appropriate for all audiences. 

Councilmember Cynthia Mota gave the invocation Wednesday night. She immigrated to the US from the Dominican Republic.

“I lived in an administration where I was bullied and silenced… I will never allow that to happen again. I will not let that happen to anyone else on my watch. Silence is violence.”

Since the death of George Floyd, the Lehigh Valley has been rocked by Black Lives Matter protests calling for defunding police and addressing systemic racism in the community. 

Then, last month, a local video sparked more outrage. It showed Allentown police physically restraining a person of color in front of a local hospital, viscerally recalling Floyd’s arrest. Councilmember Ce-Ce Gerlach took part in protests that followed.

“I will continue to protest, I will continue to fight injustice, I will continue to fight system racism, because that is my right, that is my duty, that is our duty as council people – to be out there listening to the cries of the people,” said Gerlach.

Gerlach’s participation, along with fellow Councilmember Joshua Siegel, widened a divide among city leaders and many residents. Some said it was inappropriate. Others thanked them for showing up.  

Councilmember Ed Zucal drafted a resolution to censure them, and called on them to resign. In response, a group of residents submitted a counter-petition, calling the censure racist. They demanded that Zucal, and other council members supporting it, step down. 

“This was very hard to do to bring forth the resolution is not something I ever wanted to do against my fellow colleagues. This has nothing to do with Black lives. [I’ve been] a member of the NAACP for the past three years and very proud of it, I have no racist blood in me,” said Zucal.

At the heart of the dispute, Siegel and Gerlach stand accused of participating in controversial chants at protests. Council President Daryl Hendricks, a former Allentown police officer, addressed that directly. 

“Mr. Siegel, you are a coworker working for the city of Allentown. Among those coworkers are 200 and some men and women of the Allentown police department. Explain why you would say “F the police.” And tell me how that is any movement.”

Siegal denied that he chanted that phrase, but defended its use.

“F the police” is a general critique against police brutality. When someone says “F the police” they are saying “F” the general concept of police brutality and excessive force. It’s not “F the Allentown Police Department.” It’s not “F the Allentown police officers.”

Hendricks disagreed.

If you’re marching, and that’s being spoken… I say defund the police.”

Siegel and Gerlach have been at the helm of police reform efforts in the city. Which Gerlach says has resulted in her receiving death threats. But she says she’s not backing down.

“It was beyond disappointing to see that while we have a deadly virus going around we have evictions piling up we don’t know how we are going to make it financially that we would even entertain having a censure due to political differences,” said Gerlach.

A common thread Wednesday night was that nearly every council member mentioned their support for anti-racist policies, and solidarity with people of color. Several who had backed the censure, also cited their decades of service to the city, and commitment to civil rights.

Ultimately – calls to for anyone to step down were quashed, and no one resigned. The resolution was officially withdrawn.

But the debate is likely to continue. Up for a vote next week – a resolution for more oversight of police, and more dialogue about their role in the community. 

Read WLVR’s coverage of recent protesters clashing in Allentown, other recent protests, as well as coverage on Allentown City Council’s response on police reform.

Sign Up for our WLVR weekly newsletter to stay up to date with the latest news from the Lehigh Valley and across Pennsylvania. 


Current track