Asa Khalif, a local activist who recently declared his candidacy for a seat on Philadelphia City Council, said one of his first official acts if elected will be to introduce a resolution calling for public hearings in the Nizah Morris case.
“It’s one of the top priorities for me,” Khalif told PGN. “We’re going to find out what happened to Nizah Morris — whether the police like it or not. They have the information and we’re going to get it from them.” He noted that City Council has subpoena power and can require police and other authorities to participate in the hearings.
In December 2002, Morris, a trans woman of color, died under suspicious circumstances after receiving a Center City courtesy ride from Philadelphia police. Khalif said he was a friend of Morris who remains concerned about her unsolved homicide for almost 16 years.
“If the police gave Nizah such a loving, courteous ride, why are we having so much trouble getting information from them?” he asked. “You’d think they’d be transparent and release everything.”
On Nov. 13, Khalif announced his candidacy for one of five Democrat “at-large” seats on City Council. His announcement received a significant amount of local media coverage. Khalif is busily preparing for the May 2019 primary election, which will determine whether he gets a seat on council.
City Council, which is Philadelphia’s governing body, is composed of 17 seats. All of them are available for a new occupant in January 2020. Ten of the seats represent specific areas of the city. The remaining seven are “at-large” seats that represent the entire city. Under the city charter, two of the “at-large” seats are set aside for candidates not running as a Democrat. The annual salary for a City Council member is $130,668.
Khalif said a cadre of 20 volunteers have stepped forward to help with his campaign. He said he’s optimistic about winning but isn’t taking anything for granted. “I’m so blessed and so grateful,” he said. “We’re going to run a campaign. But there still will be business as usual, which means helping people — because that’s my calling in life by God Almighty.”
Khalif said he’s been an advocate for LGBT rights since attending his first demonstration in Philadelphia at age 13. As a council member, he’ll push for an audit of every city department to ensure that services are delivered to the LGBT community in a culturally competent manner, he added.
Khalif, 48, lives in Old City. In addition to his social-justice activism, he assists with a family real-estate business, he said.
Khalif said his family is very supportive of his candidacy, particularly his parents and his uncle Tyrone Smith, a longtime LGBT advocate. “There would be no Asa Khalif without Tyrone Smith. He’s been a powerful mentor and friend in my life — along with being a loving uncle.”
Khalif’s campaign platform seeks many changes within the city: reducing the incarceration of non-violent offenders; reforming the police department; abolishing a mayoral “slush fund”; upgrading the roadway infrastructure; improving public education including air conditioning in all schools; ending corporate welfare; and increasing job programs for youth.
Khalif is best known for his association with the Black Lives Matter movement. In April, he led a protest at a Center City Starbucks where two black men were arrested after a manager called the police because they were inside the store without making a purchase. A news photograph went viral on social media of Khalif holding a bullhorn to his mouth facing a Starbucks employee.
In November 2017, Khalif was arrested while demonstrating at the state attorney general’s office in Center City, demanding answers regarding the office’s probe of a deadly police shooting. He was charged with multiple offenses but eventually was placed in a diversionary program.
On his Facebook page, Khalif said serving on City Council would enhance his community activism.
“I am going to work so hard in this campaign to make sure the issues that have been ignored for so long will be highlighted,” he said. “And I’m going to use City Council to do that. I’m still going to be in the streets, with my bullhorn, with the people in my community. We’re going to do it from the ground; then we’re going to take it to the table. So we can be at the table making those policy changes that will affect our community for the better.”