Philadelphia riot of February 20, 1908

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The Philadelphia riot of February 20, 1908 took place after city police, armed with clubs, attacked a march of unemployed workers and Anarchists toward the Philadelphia City Hall. During the police attack, an Anarchist named Dominick Donelli fired back two shots from a pistol, which injured no-one. After the riot, Philadelphia police arrested Voltairine de Cleyre and Hyman Weinberg, Anarchists who had spoken at a rally before the march, and charged them with "inciting to riot." Four of the marchers -- Dominick Donelli, Michael Costello, Angelo Troi, and Francesco Piszicallo -- were arrested and convicted on charges of incitement, assault and battery with intent to kill. De Cleyre and Weinberg were acquitted on the incitement charges, and helped organize, along with fellow Anarchists, a legal defense fund on behalf of the four marchers, which resulted in early releases for all four.

De Cleyre later wrote about the trial in "The Philadelphia Farce" (Mother Earth III.5, July 1908).

New York Times

From "To Drive Anarchists Out of the Country," New York Times (March 4, 1908), p. 1:

The Administration has viewed with increasing uneasiness the spread of Anarchy and Socialistic teachings. The threats made against citizens of wealth and position are becoming more numerous with every month. The attempt to kill the Chief of Police of Chicago, the riot in Philadelphia following the dispersal of an Anarchistic meeting, and the threats made against clergymen have brought the Government to a realization that something must be done to make life and property more secure.

From "Woman Held As Riot Leader," New York Times (February 22, 1908):


Addresses Philadelphia Anarchists Before Their Clash with Police.
PHILADELPHIA, Penn., Feb. 21.—The demonstration on Broad Street yesterday by more than 1,000 unemployed foreigners, which ended in a serious clash with the police, was followed to-day by numerous arrests. Chief among those taken into custody was Voltairine de Cleyre, a professed Anarchist, who addressed a meeting of men which preceded their march to the City Hall, where they say they intended to ask Mayor Reyburn for work.
Hyman Weinberg, who also addressed this meeting and in whose possession the police say they found letters from New York Anarchists, together with David Cohen and Harry Granet, were others arrested. Miss De Cleyre was remanded on $2,500 bail for a further hearing on a charge of inciting to riot.
Voltairine de Cleyre says the meeting was held under the Italian and Jewish Anarchist groups, but investigation shows that political workers in the foreign settlements had much to do with the movement. Miss De Cleyre says she advised against any demonstration, because it was the idea of the Anarchists to take advantage of the situation and get all the unemployed together later, when 100,000 men and women could be mustered into line for a demonstration which the police could not resist.

Peter Glassgold, Anarchy! An Anthology of Emma Goldman's MOTHER EARTH (2000)

From Peter Glassgold (2000), editor's commentary on Voltairine de Cleyre, "The Philadelphia Farce," in Anarchy! An Anthology of Emma Goldman's MOTHER EARTH, p. 246.

In the winter of 1907-1908, the United States was in the depths of a major depression. On February 20, Jewish and Italian anarchists in Philadelphia held a mass demonstration of the unemployed at the New Auditorium on South Third Street. Voltairine de Cleyre spoke briefly to the crowd of 2,000. Afterward, the demonstrators attempted to march on Broad Street but were blocked by club-wielding police. Dominick Donelli, an Italian anarchist, drew a pistol and fired it twice, hitting no one. Later in the day, police arrested de Cleyre at her home. She and an anarchist friend, Hyman Weinberg, were charged with inciting to riot. "The Philadelphia Farce," published in April, is de Cleyre's record of the prosecution's laughable ineptness in the conduct of their trial.
The "four men... in prison" mentioned at the end of the contribution were Michael Costello, Angelo Troi, Franceso Piszicallo, and Dominick Donelli, of whom only the last was an anarchist. They, too, had been arrested and charged with inciting to riot as well as assault and battery with intent to kill. Tried and convicted, they were given stiff sentences, Donelli receiving the harshest, a term of five years at hard labor. De Cleyre organized a defense committee on their behalf, raising money through appeals in such publications as Mother Earth and the Yiddish anarchist newspaper Fraye Arbeter Shtime. As a result of her efforts, Piszicallo was imprisoned for less than a year, both Costello and Troi were released before the end of 1909, and Donelli was freed in 1911. Joseph Cohen, referred to in the final paragraph, was prominent in the Jewish anarchist and Modern School movements and served from 1923 to 1932 as editor of the Fraye Arbeter Shtime.