Philly prepares to bring in National Guard as unrest spreads

Looting and vandalism spread to other parts of Philadelphia Sunday and officials prepared to bring in the National Guard to assist law enforcement.

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Protesters gather at the Philadelphia Police Department Headquarters during a rally

Protesters gather at the Philadelphia Police Department Headquarters during a rally Sunday May 31, 2020, in Philadelphia over the police killing of George Floyd. (Jose F. Moreno/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

Updated 10:18 p.m.

Soon after residents worked to clean up Center City from Saturday’s protests against police brutality and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, looting and vandalism spread to other parts of the city Sunday and city officials prepared to bring in the National Guard to assist law enforcement.

The city ordered all retail stores to close immediately and moved up its mandatory, citywide curfew by two hours to begin at 6 p.m. Community members and business owners helping to clean up vandalized properties were urged to return home by 5 p.m.

All Center City streets are closed to vehicle traffic until further notice. The closure area runs from Vine to South streets and from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill River, and includes all bridges and expressway entrances and exits.

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Gov. Tom Wolf has ordered the Benjamin Franklin Bridge closed to foot and vehicle traffic until further notice. The Walt Whitman bridge remains open.

SEPTA will shut down all service starting at 6 p.m. until at least 6 a.m. on Monday. This includes all bus and trolley routes, service on the Broad Street and Market-Frankford subway lines, Regional Rail and the Norristown High Speed Line.

All city services and Philadelphia government operations — except for public safety — will be closed tomorrow. City-run meal distribution sites normally open on Mondays have been postponed to Tuesday.

A City Council budget hearing set for Monday — for which Philadelphia Police are expected to get a $14 million increase under Kenney’s post-COVID-19 budget — has been postponed.

The city’s regularly scheduled coronavirus briefing scheduled for Monday has been canceled.

City Managing Director Brian Abernathy said that as of 12 p.m., there have been 10 additional arrests for looting. Thirteen code violation notices were given out for failure to disperse.

In the area of 52nd and Market streets, five officers were injured and officers were hit with bricks, rocks and Molotov cocktails.

Abernathy said tensions in Kensington have started to calm down, but that the area around 52 and Market streets in West Philly is still “very much an active situation.”

Center City, Abernathy said, has remained “relatively calm” in comparison to yesterday. However, WHYY education reporter Avi Wolfman-Arent was arrested while covering at a protest near Independence Hall, for allegedly failing to follow a dispersal order, and despite identifying himself as a member of the press.

Abernathy also said police are responding to other issues of violence, including a quadruple shooting in Kensington, where a 12-year-old boy and three adults were shot. 

The city managing director closed Sunday evening’s press briefing with a message to TV news media.

“As your cameras continue to roll over scenes of looting, over cars that are putting TVs in their trunks, know that our investigators are tracking all those license plates you’re capturing,” Abernathy said. “We’re paying attention to all the faces being captured, so keep doing it because you’re helping our investigations.”

State officials said the National Guard has also been requested in Montgomery County, where the King of Prussia Mall and an AT&T store on Route 202 and Allendale Road in Montgomery County were looted Saturday, according to CBS3.

Upper Merion on Sunday declared a “township emergency.” A curfew will be in effect from 8 p.m. through 6 a.m. Monday.

Upper Merion Township officials detailed Saturday’s events in a Facebook post late Sunday evening. The post says community members held a protest that “demonstrated exactly how a peaceful protest works: non-violent, non-threatening freedom of expression from the public and tolerance from authorities.”

But a separate event with no connection to the protest took place hours later at the King of Prussia Mall, where hundreds of people stole items from the mall and destroyed property.

Nine people were arrested, officials said, and none of them were Upper Merion residents.

In a tweet late Sunday afternoon, President Donald Trump called for “law and order” in Philadelphia, and suggested calling in the National Guard.

Looting spreads outside Center City

As roughly 500 people gathered outside City Hall for a peace rally Sunday afternoon, looting and vandalism continued, including outside Center City, alarming many residents.

Groups of people could be seen leaving Port Richmond stores with armloads of merchandise, according to NBC10.

At 52nd Street in West Philly, multiple police cars burned, and people looted stores in the area.

Larneice Poindexter said she was at the corner of 52nd and Walnut streets when she saw someone had lit a trashcan on fire at a nearby McDonald’s. She said officers started shooting rubber bullets and using tear gas to control the crowds.

Officers stand at 52nd and Chestnut streets as protests continue across the city.
Officers stand at 52nd and Chestnut streets as protests continue across the city. (Darryl Murphy/WHYY News)

Poindexter said she came to the area for some pizza and lamented how unsafe it feels in her neighborhood.

“I was born when Martin Luther King was killed … April 4th, 1968 and I can’t believe I’m living what that man lived,” she said. “His dream back then, to see us be free — I want my 14-year-old autistic son to live. I won’t want him to walk down the street and he can’t understand ‘Stop, put your hands up,’ so he can’t go nowhere without Momma.”

“The man got charged with third-degree murder, they fired him, that’s the best you’re going to get,” said Tahira Young, of West Philly, of now-fired Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin who is charged with murdering George Floyd.

Young said she thinks the rioting misses the point because it hurts residents and businesses where she lives.

“It wasn’t fair for the man to do what he did, but it’s not fair for them to do what they did, because these merchants didn’t do anything for their property to be stolen, broken and rioted in,” she said. “McDonald’s didn’t do anything to get burned down.”

City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, who represents West Philadelphia, said she witnessed the unrest on 52nd Street firsthand, and said “we cannot allow this to continue.”

Gauthier said that as protesters became more aggressive, police also increased their aggression and intimidation.

“The 3rd District is a vibrant community, and 52nd Street is at its heart,” Gauthier said in a statement. “It is tragic to see our own small businesses — the lifeblood of this neighborhood — being destroyed. And I’m terrified for these youth, because I don’t want them to get hurt in the process.”

She added that as a mother of two Black sons, she understands the outrage and that people have reached a “boiling point.”

“I am looking forward to tomorrow, though: to rebuilding, and to generating real, substantive change,” Gauthier said. “We as City leaders must hear what people are angry about and respond — not just placate and go back to business as usual.”

For Gloria Cartagena, the combination of the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns and the citywide chaos is “a double whammy” to North Philly residents.

In Kensington, where she lives, the poverty rate is 44% — nearly double that of the rest of the city. Combined with a severe opioid crisis in the neighborhood that has exacerbated homelessness and made social distancing difficult, Cartagena said when the rest of Philadelphia gets hit hard, Kensington gets hit harder.

“A lot of these people [looting], they’re not even from this area,” said Cartagena, former president and current secretary of Somerset Neighbors for Better Living. “They’re from West Philly, Southwest Philly, even Delaware … but we live here, we sleep here, we eat here, we play here, and we don’t feel safe.”

Cartagena has been doing community work for the past 35 years. She says the residents who called her this morning were frustrated, scared, feeling trapped. The looting they described was “out of control.”

Recent protests across the nation, as well as in Philly, have often targeted large corporations — the Port Richmond Walmart was looted, for example. But in Kensington, big chains weren’t the only ones that took damage.

Jess Shoffner, an urban gardener and Kensington resident on the 500 block of Hart Lane, said she’d heard neighbors talking about a looted corner store only a block away. The fire station down the street, she said, “has been wailing sirens all morning … there were people running up Kensington Avenue, some wearing masks, some not. We don’t really know what’s going on.”

‘A slap in the face’

The mayor, who on Sunday morning toured the damage left behind on Walnut Street, said the images of residents turning out with brooms, shovels and trash bags to “restore their city” gave him hope.

“I understand that the larger issues that fueled yesterday’s events remain,” Kenney said, explaining that the more violent destruction was born of decades of systemic racism and poverty, “two factors that work hand in hand to fuel anger and hopelessness.”

The destruction, however, was “disappointing beyond words,“ Kenney said.

“We’re better than what happened last night,” he said

Sunday’s press conference came after an afternoon that saw about 3,000 people attend peaceful protests over police violence gave way to destruction by Saturday evening. Smaller groups of demonstrators set fire to at least nine structures, including multiple vehicles and the City Hall Starbucks. Some also smashed windows, set fire to mannequins and office furniture, vandalized and looted businesses on Chestnut and Walnut streets in Center City.

A protester in an Elmo mask dances during the Justice for George Floyd Philadelphia Protest on Saturday, May 30, 2020. Demonstrators took to the streets across the United States to protest the death of Floyd, a black man who was killed in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Both Kenney and Outlaw reiterated that Saturday’s organized protests were peaceful and orderly, but that criminal activity would not be tolerated.

Outlaw, Philadelphia’s first Black female police chief, also indicated that she too was affected by George Floyd’s death.

“I wear many hats,” Outlaw said. “I’ve been a Black woman my entire life. I have Black sons. I enforce the law, but there is a very clear narrative here.” That narrative, Outlaw said, stemmed from “a lot of hurt and anger.”

The police commissioner, responding to a question about whether a large percentage of arrests were tied to white people, described the destruction as in “misalignment” with the message carried out by Saturday’s peaceful protesters.

“Frankly, those folks didn’t look like me,” Outlaw said, adding that the destruction was a “slap in the face” and a “setback for everything that’s been accomplished for those working to fix the issues within the criminal justice system.”

Thirteen police officers were injured Saturday. Injuries included chemical burns to the face and arms, broken extremities and head injuries, per Outlaw. One officer remains hospitalized after reportedly being struck by a vehicle. Officials are still working to confirm the number of civilians injured.

Four police vehicles were set ablaze, including one state police vehicle. Nine fires were set to various structures, and 207 arrests were made. Outlaw said she expects the number of arrests to grow.

Police cars burn at Broad and JFK in Center City.
Police cars burn at Broad and JFK in Center City. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

About 40 people are expected to face felony burglary charges stemming from the protests and looting Saturday afternoon and evening. At least one person will likely be charged with aggravated assault against a police officer, and three people face gun charges. These are in addition to 52 citations for curfew violations and nine civil citations.

Paul Hetznecker, a criminal defense and civil rights attorney, says these criminal cases differ from mass arrests at previous protests like the 2016 Democratic National Convention. In that instance, Hetznecker says the city used “catch and release” for demonstrators who charged a fence at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia. Prior to the 2016 DNC, City Council passed an ordinance decriminalizing such incidents like disturbing the peace, and failure to disperse during protests, essentially charging protestors with a civil offense. Saturday’s protests led to a greater level of property destruction and theft.

Hetznecker, who is part of a team of lawyers offering to defend those arrested pro bono, also defended protestors at the 2000 Republican National Convention when more than 400 people were arrested and some charged with felonies. At that event, there were just a few incidents of property damage and more than 90% of those who faced charges were acquitted.

He says the current protests are a very different level of social unrest than those that have taken place in the past in the city. Vandalism, looting and burglary, he says, are not protected by the First Amendment.

“Certainly the overriding issue of police abuse and institutional racism historically within police departments across this country is the most significant issue,” he said, “not only from the death of George Floyd, but from the death of every African American individual who has been killed at the hands of police.”

Philly residents help clean up

Philadelphians awoke Sunday morning to images of several Center City streets littered with debris, shattered glass and pools of water from where firefighters had extinguished fires set in the street and inside businesses.

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WHYY’s Chris Norris, who was on the scene Sunday morning after the curfew lifted, described the cleanup effort underway as some business owners arrived to assess the damage to their stores and everyday residents arrived to help.

As he walked along Chestnut Street between 17th and 18th, filming via Facebook Live, one could see people with push brooms sweeping the sidewalks and windows that had been smashed being boarded up.

However, Norris said the looting appeared to continue.

“People are cleaning up for themselves while others are cleaning up for the city,” he said.

Cerrone Brown made the trip to Center City from Northeast Philly with his three kids to help out starting around 9 a.m. He said he watched the demonstrations from home last night.

“It was mostly peaceful, but I see it as being unfortunate because now we’re not going to remember the peaceful part. We’re going to remember the latter part, which was chaos and anarchy.”

Seeing the protests turn violent was difficult to watch, said Brown, who doesn’t want his children to feel like they’re victims.

“I don’t want them to think that when they step out the door, they’re going to be harassed by the police or shot by the police,” he said.

Amy King came from North Philly with a friend to help with cleaning and to give out chips and water to volunteers.

King was at the peaceful protest at City Hall Saturday and is against the vandalism and looting that took place later in the day. She’s frustrated because the city is already struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Still, King said she understands why people acted out.

“You didn’t hear us when we were quiet, you didn’t hear us when we were peaceful, so we’re going to make some noise at this point and I think that’s where a lot of people’s hearts were,” she said.

King, however, rejects calls for things to go back to “normal.” She hopes police departments across America will make meaningful changes.

“We’ve protested numerous times on the same matter about Black people being killed at the hands of police, about Black people being dehumanized, having people step on your neck, having you come in our homes, having you kill us in front of our children,” King said.

King said she plans on demonstrating again Sunday.

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