'Philly Jesus' arrested for disorderly conduct

Michael Grant skating at the new Rothman Rink in Dilworth Park on Friday. He was arrested not long after when an officer told him to leave LOVE Park and he refused.
Michael Grant skating at the new Rothman Rink in Dilworth Park on Friday. He was arrested not long after when an officer told him to leave LOVE Park and he refused. (Instagram Web capture)
Posted: November 16, 2014

Michael Grant, who has become a Center City fixture as "Philly Jesus" with his long hair, beard, robes, and staff, was arrested Friday in his LOVE Park stomping grounds, shortly after taking a few laps around the new Dilworth Park skating rink.

He has been charged with disorderly conduct and failure to disperse.

"Those are charges that, in my experience, the government uses when you don't do whatever the government wants you to do, or that the police officer wants you to do," said Charles M. Gibbs, the lawyer Grant retained Saturday morning to represent him.

Gibbs asked Grant to refer media inquiries to him.

"He's a very decent young man who is simply exercising his First Amendment right of speech," Gibbs said Saturday.

Grant tweeted after the arrest that the officer had accused him of solicitation. Gibbs said Grant had been talking to people and taking photographs with them, as he has done for months in the LOVE Park area.

Grant accepts tips, he wrote on Twitter, but does not actively seek money.

The officer told Grant to leave the area, but Grant did not, Gibbs said, because it was "an unlawful order to leave a public park."

Philly Jesus was then arrested.

He believes the officer recognized him from the time, more than a year ago, when he was homeless, addicted to drugs, and would panhandle in Suburban Station, Gibbs said.

Court records show that Grant has been arrested more than a dozen times on charges including loitering, possession of marijuana, and theft of services.

"He believes that the officer remembers him from those days," Gibbs said, adding that Grant has been sober and drug-free for a year.

Grant has been retweeting dozens of supportive messages from his flock of Twitter followers.

His lawyer said Grant was looking forward to his day in court. In the meantime, he said, Grant will continue to spread his message.

"To have our local government try and crucify a guy who's standing in LOVE Park and spreading a message of hope and peace is reminiscent of what happened 2,000 years ago - and still patently disturbing," he said.


jlai@phillynews.com

856-779-3220 @elaijuh

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