Last Friday, we posted about the louder-than-usual Friday-afternoon battle between the regular Black Israelites demonstration outside Liberty Place and the DJ Liberty Place has hired to set up directly across from them, about 20 feet away, and play Rihanna (and more) over their rants against white people, Asians, the gays, interracial couples, women they perceive to be dressed provocatively — pretty much everyone walking by 16th and Chestnut. (The Southern Poverty Law Center rates the Black Israelites, aka the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ, as a hate group — though not one significant enough to get its own entry.)
We noted that the guy behind the turntables seemed surprisingly upbeat as he was personally called a white devil several dozen times in just the five minutes we were there; he even seemed to be kind of having fun. Since it was too loud to talk, we slipped the DJ our card and mimed for him to call us.
And he did! His name is Eric Pawlicki, and when he’s not in a volume battle with the Black Israelites, with an entertainment company based in Moorestown, N.J. called DJ's Available. "We do everything — corporate parties, weddings, a lot of local bars, a few nightclub spots, stuff like that. Full service, we provide what you need for any event."
Pawlicki talked to City Paper about having the city's weirdest DJ gig and how he tries not to let the ranting get under his skin. (He'd like to make it clear that he doesn’t speak for his company or for Liberty Place; this is just about his personal experience on the ground.)
City Paper: So, how did you get this gig?
Eric Pawlicki: I’ve been a DJ for 3 years, going on 4. Liberty Place has the protestors there, which you saw, and basically they hired my company to turn a negative into a positive by playing some music and trying to drown them out a little bit. It got pretty intense Friday; some people got into an altercation with them, tipping over their signs, stuff like that. … People are walking by and they’re calling them names, saying the most crazy stuff.
How many times have you done this?
Quite a few — probably at least 20 times?
When did you start?
So what’s the deal? It seems like such a weird gig.
It all has to do with the permits. These guys have freedom of speech and all that, and they get permits to be on the corner with their protest, which they’re allowed to do. So it’s basically a battle over who can get the permit first. Where we were set up, at 16th and Chestnut — sometimes these guys get a permit for 17th and Chestnut. So when I first started, the Shops at Liberty would hire two of us, one on each corner. The first couple times I went there, these guys didn’t actually show up. I’d heard about them, people were always telling me how crazy they were, I’d seen pictures. It wasn’t until the third or fourth time that they actually showed up, and I just could not believe — these guys were just brutal. The stuff that they do, it’s just really insane. They get these civil-affairs officers to come with them, who basically make sure that I keep my volume lower than theirs so they’re able to get out what they’re trying to say. It’s pretty crazy when you sit there and listen to it all day; it’s really unbelievable.
What instructions did you get on your first day?
It’s as simple as it looks — you set up and you play music so when people walk by, they’re not just hearing a bunch of people screaming and yelling. These guys get really loud, they literally pick people out of the crowd and disrespect them, talk right to them, say some really ignorant stuff. [My job is] just trying to take a negative and turn it into a positive.
You’re probably one of the few people who’s really listened to these guys for more than a couple minutes; what’s your impression of their message?
Uh … well, the message that they’re trying to put out is… I don’t want to even say hatred toward all white people. But, literally, a white person will walk by and they’ll look at him and call him a white devil, or they’ll look at the crowd and say “I hope every white person here gets cancer and dies on their way home.” They’re cursing, they’re throwing stuff, they have their signs with Jesus on them and they throw them on the ground and stomp on them. I mean, you really have to go there and sit there all day while they’re doing this — it’s really unbelievable. It’s basically hate. It’s racism, that’s what it is. And it offends all kinds of people — very rarely does anyone stop to listen what they’re saying. Just Friday, a black guy kicked over their signs; he was screaming at the protestors, “You’re giving our people a bad name!”
People try to be positive. Sometimes when these guys are yelling about how it’s wrong for a black woman to be with a white guy or vice versa and you’ll get complete strangers in the crowd — a black person will start hugging a white person, just to prove to these people that what they’re saying is completely wrong.
Last [Friday] got a little crazy — it was the first time I’d seen someone get physical and kick over their signs. I actually videotaped it. [Note: Pawlicki said he'd send us multiple videos he refers to in this Q&A; we'll update the post when he does. There's some videos we took ourselves on Friday's post.] And there was another woman; she was black, same as the guy who kicked over their signs. You know, [the Black Israelites are] talking stuff, they’re saying certain things, and I guess she had a point to try to get across to them and she was walking around and a bunch of them ended up putting their hands on her. Not hitting her or anything, but lightly pushing her, keeping her away from the area. I alerted one of the security guys and he walked over and stepped her away from the situation. That’s the first time I’ve seen an actual altercation other than people just walking by and shouting.
The most stuff [before that] that I’ve seen from people walking by is just a middle finger or something, or people walking by being, like, “What are you doing? You’re giving our people a bad name, you’re saying we’re slaves.” Because [the Black Israelites are] saying, “Black people, why are you letting white people do this to you, your government is completely destroying you, we’re like slaves.” That’s what they say — they preach and preach that they are slaves. And that all black people are slaves. It’s really absurd. I try not to think about it so much.
Would you call this a good gig?
Well, I absolutely love being in the city. As far as temperature, it was a little cold [on Friday]; I could deal with it being a little warmer. But I do enjoy doing it. Unfortunately, when these guys are there, I gotta tell you, it’s really a headache. Their speaker is pointed right at me, my speaker is pointed right at them, so people walking by through the middle get caught in this big, loud noise — it’s just terrible.
I do enjoy it. But sometimes they do get under my skin, I gotta tell you. Sometimes they look over at me and talk directly to me and try to get under my skin. “Look at that DJ — tall, blond hair, you’re the devil! They’re paying him to come out here and stop us from preaching our word because they don’t want you to know the truth!” Some of that stuff can get really hard to deal with. But at the end of the day, you have to laugh.
We actually have videos up on Facebook — you know, when school gets out, most of the kids who go to school around there come right through that area, so sometimes I’ll even get a group of kids breakdancing. I have videos of what must be a hundred people out there forming a giant circle and tons of people dancing, it’s all love for music.
Some people reach out to me — there’s this one lady, her son is 6 years old, his name is Anthony, and this kid is amazing; he’s one of the coolest kids I’ve ever met. They come every week I’m there; she took my phone number down and she sends me a text message asking me if I’m there. And they come and the just have the time of their lives whether the protestors are there or not.
I can’t tell you how many people come up and thank me for what I’m doing; people really do appreciate it, and that really makes me happy, makes me love what I’m doing while I’m there. So at the end of the day, I guess it’s a good gig.
You say the Black Israelites sometimes try to get under your skin; in what ways?
They look directly at me and talk to me. Like, my name’s Eric, but they wouldn’t say “Hey Eric,” they’d say “Look at this DJ, this DJ is the devil, this DJ is the prime example of what we’re talking about. He’s a white devil, he’s a terrible person, he ruins our people’s lives.” I hate to even repeat it, to be honest.
Do they know your name is Eric?
I don’t think that they do. But there’s been times where I pull up with my car and I’m unloading my stuff — one of the protestors walked up to my car and took his phone out and was taking pictures of my license plate, taking pictures inside my car. There was a cop there, so I got him involved, and apparently they made him delete the pictures. … Anyway, there’s always a security team with me.
On Friday, it seemed like you were responding to what they were saying with specific songs.
Oh yeah, absolutely, 100%. But when I play songs that look like they have something to do with the situation, a lot of the time it’s because citizens have walked up and asked me to play it. The number one request I get is Michael Jackson’s “Black or White.” It’s such a great song for [the situation] — everybody knows it, it’ll get people dancing. But it’s more for the people, not for the protestors. As much as they try to get under our skin, we try to not let that happen, and to not let them see that happen, because that’s what they want.
You said Friday was crazier than usual — I heard that was because they didn’t have a permit?
This was actually the first day that this happened — neither one of us had the permit. They just came there around 10:30 in the morning, and I don’t start until 12. I was unaware of it, but one of their civil affairs officers came up to me and explained that how when they had a permit and we didn’t, it was right that their speaker was able to be louder. But then he mentioned that this time nobody had a permit, so it didn’t really matter. So the music went loud. [Laughs.] But that’s what people want! So many people walk by and give a thumbs-up, saying, “Turn it up, turn it up, turn it up!” So if we can get it louder, we’re going to go louder. It might sound immature, but at the end of the day, what they’re doing is completely wrong. It’s nonsense.
You say you try not to let it get under your skin, but it seems like it has at least a little.
I mean, yes, it is very, very, very irritating. But most of the time I’ll have my headphones on. Usually when I’m DJing, I don’t sit there with my headphones on the whole time, I’ll just put ‘em on through mixes and stuff. But a lot of the time, I can’t even hear the music, because they have their speakers faced right at me and I have my speakers facing right at them, and we’re only about 15-20 feet away from each other. As a DJ, you need to hear the music that you’re playing, so a lot of the time I’ll leave my headphones on.
But there’s never been a time where I’ve gone to say something to them, or made hand gestures at them, because that’s exactly what they want.
Are there any songs that they particularly dislike?
They don’t really acknowledge the music that much, honestly.
When I was there Friday, I stuck around for a few songs, and it seemed like you had a dialogue going on. You played “Hit the Road, Jack” as they were packing up —
[Laughs.] Oh, yeah, yeah.
— and I believe in response to that they were calling you white boy, and you played “Play That Funky Music, White Boy” —
Oh yeah, absolutely.
— and then they were calling you a devil, and you played “Running with the Devil.” Do you do that often?
No, I don’t do that every week. “Hit the Road, Jack” — multiple people came up to me and asked me to put that on. I don’t regret doing it or anything, but it’s… I don’t want to say immature. But you know what? If I’m going to say something to them, if what they’re doing is going to get under my skin, the only way that I would consider getting back at them is through a song.
Icepack Illustrated: Kroll, Starr, Thicke, etc.
If Icepack Illustrated looks a little short this week, it’s due to some physical health issues...
See Braille street art in its unnatural environment — a gallery
Back in August we wrote about Braille street art, the product of a special partnership between...
Huge horror-movie convention happening near Philly this weekend
In its 27th installment, Monster-Mania Con, one of the largest horror-film and memorabilia...