After dozens of anarchists allegedly caused more than $100,000 in damage to new buildings and high-end cars Monday night in North Philadelphia, two of them apparently became trapped between groups of residents on either end of the short 1500 block of North Palethorp Street.
“Everyone is coming out, and they are surrounding these peopleand there’s the two of them completely alone. … Immediately they started changing clothes, sat on a stoop, and said they were waiting for a friend,” said Amberlynn Kabana, a neighborhood resident and real estate agent. “We held them until police arrived. … They picked the wrong spot to come in and terrorize people.”
Police said one of the pair – Geoffrey Suchocki, 45, of Doylestown – had a mask, a scarf, a device used for shattering windows, and a “mission statement on how to disrupt capitalism” when he was searched.
Kabana said the 40 to 50 vandals – who smashed property, spray-painted “Leave” on several buildings, and carried a banner that read “Gentrification is death and revolt is life” – had a mission.
“It’s very clear what they were doing, in my opinion,” she said. “It’s all aimed at gentrification and new construction.”
But the protesters misjudged the residents who came out in droves to film the vandals’ misdeeds, confront their criminal activity, and support their neighbors, Kabana said.
“The whole community got together and everyone was helping at 1 in the morning, whether it was boarding up windows, power washing damage, getting rid of glass, or rehousing people,” Kabana said. “We were all checking on each other and making sure we were OK.”
Police said the vandals, believed to have been associated with an anarchist protest group called Summer of Rage, did their damage within a three-block radius of the 1500 block of North Second Street around 9:15 p.m. Monday.
Kabana said members of the group – many of whom wore dark clothing and had their faces covered – tried to open residents’ first-floor windows, including her own. They also smashed glass, spray-painted messages on buildings, and threw Christmas ornaments filled with paint, she said.
“There were lots of hammers, metal objects, and paint,” Kabana said. “They were being very violent.”
As a real estate agent for Berkshire Hathaway and the property manager for nearly 270 tenants in a two-block radius in the center of the vandalism, Kabana’s phone began ringing off the hook. Her first concern was her tenants, and one in particular, she said.
“There is a tenant on the first floor who is a single mom and nurse and an amazing human being,” Kabana said. “Seeing how scared she was [was hard] … because so many of her windows are on the street level, it was very easy for them to attack that area.”
Once Kabana checked on that resident, she and a group that grew to about 60 began filming the vandals and shining their phone lights on them.
“It was like we turned the lights on and the cockroaches ran in all directions,” she said. “We basically created this big wall. We decided to come out and be just present.”
That’s when the residents were able to corner the two alleged protesters, Suchocki and Patricia Monahan, 28, of the 1700 block of Lansing Street in Rhawnhurst. Police charged both with causing and risking a catastrophe, criminal mischief, and related offenses. They were arraigned late Tuesday night to be released on $5,000 unsecured bail each, according to court records.
At Suchocki’s Doylestown residence, which is owned by his mother, a woman who answered the door Tuesday said she did not want to comment. One neighbor in the cul-de-sac of large duplexes said Suchocki was known as a bright artist who did oil paintings and sometimes walked dogs in the neighborhood.
Nobody answered the door at Monahan’s Rhawnhurst home Tuesday. A man who answered a phone number associated with Monahan hung up when a reporter asked him for comment.
Kabana said she hopes that more of the alleged vandals will be caught. Although several people ripped out surveillance cameras in the area, the cameras have a hard-wire back-up and retained the recordings, she said.
“I have surveillance cameras everywhere,” Kabana said. “The 26th District was given all that camera footage, so we definitely have a few faces there.”
Mayor Kenney, asked about the vandalism at an unrelated news conference Tuesday, called it “just atrocious.”
“There’s never a rationale for that kind of activity. There are ways in which you can address these issues of gentrification,” he said. “There are ways in which you can address issues of injustice or unfairness, but it’s not by violence.”
Alex Ciesielski of the 1500 block of Palethorp Street said one of the vandals apparently shot a high-velocity marble through his house window.
“It looks like a bullet hole,” he said.
Ciesielski said windows of a Mercedes-Benz and a BMW were smashed.
“Only the nice cars,” he said.
Older homes and cars appear to have been spared. Jill Long, a bartender who lives on Palethorp, was among those whose property was not hit.
“I have a [lousy] car and I’m in the rear unit, so I’m good,” she said.
Long said she gets irritated by gentrification and the disruption caused by loud construction, but she said the vandals’ priorities were misplaced.
“I like my older houses, too,” she said. “But there are so many other things to be mad about.”
Philadelphia police said Tuesday it was unclear whether the vandalism was connected to anarchists who protested Monday in Center City as part of May Day demonstrations. May 1 is traditionally a rallying day for anti-capitalist and anarchist groups, dating to the 19th century.
The North Philadelphia vandalism happened hours after an arson fire broke out at a township construction project in Point Breeze, another section of the city often described as gentrifying. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has offered a $10,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of suspects in that case.
City and police officials said Tuesday they knew of no connection between the fire and the vandalism, but that investigations into both were ongoing. Spokeswomen with the ATF and FBI said those federal agencies are not involved in the North Philadelphia vandalism investigation but are ready to assist if needed.
As for Kabana, she wondered what the vandals got out of targeting her neighborhood.
“You’re attacking the wrong type of people to send your message to,” she said. “We have such a mixed neighborhood of people and there are no barriers for us.”
Kabana said just as the vandalism strengthened her community’s resolve, it strengthened her own resolve as well.
“We’re not offended and we have no shame in what we’re doing,” she said. “And we’re not going to stop doing it.”