Protesters opposing the execution of Georgia man Troy Davis, who is convicted of killing an off-duty police officer in 1989 and was scheduled to be executed at 7 p.m. tonight, gathered at 15th Street and JFK Boulevard.
Wielding signs and chanting, they began rallying around 5 p.m. By 7:30, they forced police to close 15th Street between JFK and Market to vehicular traffic for about 20 minutes.
"Every time we get them under control, they move to another area," an officer said.
Davis's execution was put on hold this evening awaiting a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, but that did not deter those assembled.
"I had to come here because, hey, that could be my son, my brother my uncle or my father," said Marilyn Kai Jewett.
Bicycle officers lined up on the street in front of City Hall in an attempt to bar the protesters from blocking the intersection.
"A great injustice is being perpetrated in Georgia and we're here to say not in our name or on our watch," said Pat Albright of the Crossroads Women's Center, who held a candlelight vigil with several other members.
"If they can kill this innocent man, they can kill anybody. We're very aware that here, Mumia Abu-Jamal's life is also on the line under similar circumstances."
Protesters cited various motives. Some insisted Davis was innocent. "Seven witnesses recanted, cops coerced him into confessing and there is no physical evidence," said Temple journalism student Chris Briggs.
Some said that race was a major factor in the alleged injustice. "It's sad and highly indicative of the still-racist society we live in," said Eduardo Soriano-Castillo of Labor Notes.
"They think they can just do this because he's black when there's clearly reasonable doubt," said Phoebe Jones, echoing a common sentiment.
Others gathered opposed the death penalty in general. "In civilized nations around the world, they don't have the death penalty," Jewett said. "But America is not civilized, it's barbaric. And the whole world is watching us."
The assembly was generally peaceful, but moments of tension occurred when occasional shouting matches broke out between protesters and police.
"The execution is in Georgia," one officer said. "Why don't they get on a bus and demonstrate at the statehouse there?"
UPDATE: Troy Davis was executed at 11:08 p.m. yesterday after the Supreme Court rejected his request for a stay.