Day 8 of Philly George Floyd protests: Massive demonstration at Art Museum, among others citywide

Many of the protests are calling for specific changes in Philadelphia, including the defunding of the police department.

Protesters took over the Benjamin Franklin Parkway Saturday to hear speakers from the Party for Socialism and Liberation - Philly, who along with demanding an end to police brutality and justice for George Floyd, called for fair housing, libraries, and healthcare for all. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Protesters took over the Benjamin Franklin Parkway Saturday to hear speakers from the Party for Socialism and Liberation - Philly, who along with demanding an end to police brutality and justice for George Floyd, called for fair housing, libraries, and healthcare for all. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Updated 8 p.m.

A massive peaceful demonstration at the Philadelphia Museum of Art set the tone for Saturday’s eighth day of protests over police brutality against Black Americans in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. More than 14,000 people had responded in advance to a Facebook post that they planned to attend. Participants gathered along the length of Benjamin Franklin Parkway, though official crowd estimates were not immediately available.

Despite the vast number of people who turned out for various demonstrations, most of them at the center of the city and farther north on Broad Street, the peaceful mood prevailed. A curfew announced earlier in the day took effect at 8 p.m. and was to stay in place until 6 a.m. Sunday.

As the throng began to make its way from the Art Museum toward City Hall about 1:15 Saturday afternoon, one of the protesters, who identified herself as Jasmine, held a painting she created in honor of the 1985 MOVE bombing in West Philadelphia. She said there’s a clear connection between the city’s actions during the bombing then and what demonstrators were protesting now.

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Compared to last Saturday’s demonstrations — pockets of which ultimately devolved into looting and tense confrontations with police — this huge gathering was calm and highly organized. Protesters distributed pallets of bottled water, snacks, hand sanitizer, and other supplies.

Sofiya Sydoryak was part of a small group of volunteers distributing earplugs and goggles. It was the first time she’d opted to distribute aid to other demonstrators, and both her hands were crammed with small bags of fruit snacks.

“We’re just here to support the protesters in any way that we can, bring in the nurturing where it’s being ripped out,” Sydoryak said.

Rose, a local nurse, recently started coming to protests to offer medical services, whether that’s by offering sugar for those who are getting hypoglycemic or for tear gas inhalation. “I hope I don’t have to use it,” she said of her medical training.

Many of those on hand were prepared for a heavy-handed response from police. Plenty of participants sported goggles and respirator masks in case there was tear gas. People signaled they had first-aid supplies handy.

A young man marching toward City Hall who asked only to be identified as Rick was outfitted for the worst-case scenario. He had a black arm wrap that covered identifying tattoos. In addition to goggles, he wore glasses because contact lenses might have trapped the irritants from tear gas in his eyes. A helmet hung from his bag.

“I’ve seen people get hit with batons,” Rick explained.

“It’s definitely a precautionary thing, you just want to make sure you’re being safe and be prepared. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it,” he said.

Many of those who spoke at the rally on the Art Museum steps said events over the last week had galvanized their demands for change, everything from police oversight to the national distribution of wealth. Organizers from groups promoting racial and economic justice pointed to the mass demonstrations as the start of an “uprising,” and a “revolution.”

Native Philadelphian Xavier Wofford said that, as a Black man, he’s experienced police harassment all his life. But the violence on Monday, when demonstrators were met with tear gas and rubber bullets on I-676, shocked him.

“We peacefully protested onto the highway. And they attacked us. Most of us were on our knees. They tried to say that we attacked them, but the truth was exposed,” Wofford said.

Though he has family members who serve in the military, he said the actions of the National Guard using force against demonstrators appalled him.

Earlier, at City Hall, a group including many dressed in religious garb sang “Amazing Grace.”

The City Hall group also took eight minutes of silence, in solidarity with the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck.

Around 2 p.m., the combined crowd reached the Municipal Services Building amid chants of “I can’t breathe,” and “Breonna Taylor.” From there, the crowd broke up, with some mingling around the City Hall area and others marching north on Broad Street.

Protesters marched through Center City Philadelphia from the Art Museum and back Saturday, in a mass demonstration that called for police reform in the city and the country. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Protesters at 15th Street and JFK Boulevard turned the demonstration into a dance party, blasting a song that takes aim at the president: YG and Nipsey Hussle’s “FDT (F— Donald Trump).”

Outside the TD Bank across from City Hall, someone brought out a basketball hoop and got a full game going.

Meanwhile, the National Guard was stationed on a ramp to I-676 near the Art Museum, with garbage trucks blocking entrances as demonstrators passed. This is the same location where several police cars were set ablaze last week.

Thousands of protesters who had marched north on Broad then made their way west on Spring Garden, with neighbors along the corridor blasting music and cheering on those in the streets.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw spoke to some of the protesters at City Hall about 3 p.m.

“The narrative is not only around reform, but around transparency and accountability,” Outlaw said of the protesters’ demands. “And how else for us to know, as leadership here in the city, what the community wants, and the type of service they want us to provide, if we’re not here to listen directly to the people?”

Protests continued Saturday in Philadelphia, with protesters calling for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and police reform across the country. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

As the Art Museum protest started to wrap up, a demonstration at the Octavius Catto monument outside City Hall, organized by the local chapter of Omega Psi Phi, an African American fraternity, started at 3 p.m.

Thousands gathered in the area surrounding the large sculpture of the 19th-century Black educator and civil rights activist. Demonstrators held up black posters that read, “I am Ahmaud Arbery” and “I am Eric Garner” — as a trombone player belted out a song.

Mayor Jim Kenney — along with Outlaw — were seen taking a knee at the Catto statue with protesters.

Marion Wilson, a Omega Psi Phi member, said now is the most necessary time for people to be speaking out about racial injustice.

“If you sense oppression being handed down to the people, then it’s our jobs to voice our opinions, to go to the next level, to talk to them,” Wilson said. “And if they don’t want to listen, we make enough noise until they lift up the blinds.”

From the Catto statue, protesters marched to the African American Museum of Philadelphia at Seventh and Arch streets. Former Philadelphia Eagles player Malcolm Jenkins was seen marching east on Market Street with the group.

As the demonstrators arrived at the African American museum, people incarcerated at the Federal Detention Center across the street started banging on the windows. Speakers at the museum included City Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson.

Jenkins spoke about the ways that the United States has long ignored the cries of Black communities.

Former Philadelphia Eagles Safety Malcolm Jenkins called for reform outside the African American Museum of Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“We’ve continued on our path towards normalcy, with slow, small steps towards change,” Jenkins said. “But I think the people have made themselves clear that right now is when we want that change.”

The Art Museum protest — The “Justice for George Floyd! March Against Racist Police Brutality & Repression of Protest” — was organized by the Philly chapter of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

The Facebook event description said the group was demanding justice for “George Floyd and all victims of racist police and vigilante violence, including Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and so many others.”

It also singled out local Philadelphia officials and aggressive police action during this past week of protests, including the use of tear gas on protesters on I-676. In the event description, organizers are demanding the resignation of Police Commissioner Outlaw, and calling on Mayor Kenney and the City Council to defund and demilitarize the Police Department. Organizers also are requesting that Gov. Tom Wolf withdraw the National Guard from the city.

Thousands of protesters marched through Philadelphia as the week-long demonstrations continued Saturday. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A diverse crowd began assembling outside the museum before noon. Shortly after noon, there was minimal police presence, with almost everyone wearing a mask.

A group of volunteers was registering people to vote. Each time someone was registered, the crowd cheered.

Compared to last Saturday’s protests, the crowd this week was much larger.

A’Brianna Morgan, lead mass liberation organizer for Reclaim Philadelphia, called for fair housing, child care, health care, education and housing for all at Saturday’s protest at the Philadelphia Art Museum. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Speakers at the protests, one from the Philadelphia Socialist Alliance, said, “It’s not this movement that caused chaos, it’s 400 years of racism.” Philadelphia Socialist Alliance was one of the main organizers of Saturday’s Art Museum protest, and plenty of Democratic Socialists of America flags were seen in the crowd, in addition to Black Lives Matter signs.

Messaging at the demonstration discussed the two routes forward from the protests: focusing on electoral politics, or staying in the street to make the country ungovernable.

Wallace Weaver of the Do More Campaign called for protesters to become registered voters Saturday afternoon during a mass demonstration at the Philadelphia Art Museum. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“This is not a riot. This is a rebellion,” one organizer said to the crowd.

Speakers also called on City Council to “pass a budget for the people,” focused on funding for health care, libraries and child care.

Plenty of protesters were distributing mutual aid resources to other participants, from water and face masks to sunscreen.

Medics and first aid workers were also on scene, along with more protesters wearing goggles and other face protections out of fear of tear gas and other projectile use.

Hundreds of port-a-potties were set up. National Guard and garbage trucks were used as barricades.

The city’s Office of Emergency Management provided water and misting fans in Center City and along the Parkway.

Several other protests were planned throughout the city Saturday.

For those protesting in Center City, the Kimmel Center is opening its doors as a rest stop from 2 to 7 p.m. — offering water, bathrooms and a break from the sweltering heat.

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City extended curfew, limited traffic access into Center City

The city announced it was extending the daily curfew, from 8 p.m. Saturday through 6 a.m. Sunday. Only essential employees or those seeking medical attention are permitted to be outside. Grocery stores, restaurants and pharmacies may choose to continue operating through delivery service if they so choose.

Due to the large number of events citywide, much of Center City is shut down. Vehicular traffic from Callowhill to South streets from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill River is prohibited.

I-676 is closed in both directions from I-95 to I-76, and the Parkway is closed to cars from 22nd Street to the Art Museum.

SEPTA expects much of its bus routes that run through Center City to be detoured due to street closures. The Broad Street and Market-Frankford lines are expected to run as normal, other than the stations that are closed due to the pandemic.

As of now, all westbound traffic on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge is being diverted to I-95, according to the Delaware River Port Authority, though it may shut the bridge down completely later Saturday, as it has in past days of protests.

Outside Philadelphia, there’s no shortage of protests either. Demonstrations are scheduled in Trenton, Flemington, Plainsboro Township, Delran, Galloway and Long Beach Island, among others.

No excessive force Saturday, City Councilmembers urge

Four members of Philadelphia City Council issued a statement Saturday morning asking Philadelphia police to not use tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray or other weapons against protesters.

“We understand that the police department has the responsibility to maintain public safety as thousands of people take to our streets,” the statement reads. “However, the past week has shown appalling instances of police officers using excessive and unnecessary force during largely peaceful demonstrations.”

The letter was signed by Councilmembers Kendra Brooks, Jamie Gauthier, Helen Gym and Isaiah Thomas.

They instead called on the police department to use its crowd-control unit in Civil Affairs to take the lead Saturday and for future demonstrations, as they work with organizers and maintain public safety without use of weaponry.

As those responsible for funding, we will be watching,” the statement reads. “And so will the world.”

The statement came after the announcement Friday that a high-ranking Philly police commander, Joseph Bologna, will be charged with aggravated assault. Video circulated this week of the officer aggressively roughing up protesters with a baton and tackling them without cause.

Under Mayor Kenney’s proposed post-COVID-19 budget, the police department is expected to receive a more than $19 million increase in funding. City Council will hear public commentary on the issue on June 9.

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