It happened 50 years ago this week and it was one of the worst riots to hit the City of Brotherly Love.
At the intersection of 22nd and Columbia Street (now Cecil B. Moore Ave.), a place where stores thrived and people gathered, a spark ignited what would turn into a three-day melee that ended up with 339 people hurt (including 100 police officers), hundreds arrested and at least one man killed. Property damage was in excess of $18 million.
It all started with an African-American married couple having an argument inside their car at 22nd and Columbia. A patrol car with two police officers, one white and the other African-American, arrived on the scene. The African-American patrol officer approached the vehicle and tried to calm the arguing woman to no avail. She turned on the officer and began shouting at him. A crowd gathered around the incident.
One of the people in the crowd decided to walk up to the white patrol officer and attack him. As police arrested the women and the attacker, bricks, bottles and rocks began flying through the air. The crowed swelled.
Fifty years ago, there was no internet and no social media for instigators to hide behind while spreading rumors and misinformation to incite the crowd. But, one block from the incident, a 25-year-old man stood on a corner and yelled repeatedly that "A pregnant black woman's been beaten and shot to death by a white policeman." The crowd rioted.
His cries were false and intended to do one thing; inflame the crowd. The man was later identified and was described as an "apolitical agitator." Chaos, riots and looting marred the North Philadelphia neighborhood for three days.
Fifty years later we're faced with the incident in Ferguson Missouri where a white policeman is being accused of shooting an unarmed African-American teen. The incident must, will and is being investigated on a local and federal level as well as by a grand jury. The truth will come out and, make no mistake, we don't know the truth yet. We only know what news media and social networking have wanted us to know.
The justice system will prevail and if the officer is guilty of a crime, he must be punished. If he is not guilty then he must be reinstated. The accounts, as reported by news media and reported witnesses, don't bode well for the officer. But the accounts aren't necessarily the facts.
In the aftermath of the Ferguson incident, thousands of people rioted and looted dozens of stores over a four-day period. Scores were arrested and dozens hurt.
Fifty years ago in Philadelphia we saw what one man standing on a corner and shouting loud, racist accusations to an inflamed crowd could do. It seems that social networking saved the vocal chords of the Ferguson accusers, spreading their accusations to a wider audience a lot faster and at the same time may have helped to cloud the facts.
Facts - not rumors - which we must learn and may not have been presented with yet.