This post has been updated.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross has ordered all city police officers to double-up during patrols, after killers gunned down 12 police officers – five of whom died – in Dallas during a Black Lives Matter rally last night.
“Everyone is in two-person vehicles; that decision was made last night,” police spokesman Lt. John Stanford said this morning. “This is a daunting day for everybody.”
The violence erupted as activists protested the controversial, police-involved deaths of Alton Sterling of Louisiana and Philando Castile of Minnesota. Two snipers shot at police from an elevated position in an attack police believe was premeditated. During the chaos, one suspect claimed he’d planted bombs downtown. The massacre was the deadliest single incident for law enforcement since 9/11. Police have three suspects in custody, and a fourth died during a standoff with police.
Stanford acknowledged feeling a bit helpless as he watched the news unfold in Dallas.
“I don’t really know what you do to prevent that,” he said. “It’s a tough time for many communities. It’s a tough time for law enforcement. When there’s a police-involved shooting that happened 10,000 miles across the country, it still has an impact in Philadelphia, just as the events in Dallas have an impact in Philadelphia. I don’t know how to prevent these things, but they don’t represent every police officer, and they don’t represent every protester.”
Most of the beat cops on Philadelphia’s 6,600-officer force normally patrol solo. The last time Philadelphia cops doubled up on patrol came in January, after a Yeadon man approached a lone police officer sitting in a parked cruiser in West Philadelphia and unloaded his weapon on him through his open window. Officer Jesse Hartnett survived with serious arm injuries – and even helped chased down the gunman, Edward Archer.
Stanford wasn’t sure how long the commissioner’s double-up order would remain in place, nor how the Dallas carnage might affect security here for the Democratic National Convention later this month. Philadelphia has a busy Black Lives Matter community, but protesters typically have been peaceful, with occasional arrests when they try to enter or block major roadways, a common activist tactic.
Yesterday, the Philly Coalition for REAL (Racial, Economic and Legal) Justice announced plans for a “Weekend of Rage for Alton Sterling and Philando Castile,” beginning with a march at 6 p.m. tonight from 22nd and Lehigh to 33rd and Lehigh. On a Facebook page for the event, one woman urged peace: “Let’s not let what happened in Dallas happen in our city. Philly is better then this. We have to much soul. Be cautious. Have your cameras out and record. Have sit in protests. Be mindful of the people around you. Please don’t let hate stir in the wrong. We can fix it with love.”
During the DNC, thousands of protesters are expected to converge on Philadelphia to rally for causes including Black Lives Matter, police brutality and criminal injustice. Local clergy and the Up Against the Law Legal Collective are hosting activist “trainings,” beginning tomorrow with a “Know Your Rights” session at the Arch Street United Methodist Church in Center City. One training on July 23 will be a “freedom school,” during which they plan to emphasize the nonviolent tactics espoused by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I was horrified” to hear of the cops killed in Dallas, said the Rev. Robin Hynicka of the Arch Street United Methodist Church, who had just finished marching with about 1,000 others during a Black Lives Matter protest last night in Philadelphia.
The Dallas slaughter shows that such training is needed now more than ever, Hynicka said.
“I think people, deep down, want to be peaceful. Often, there are moments where emotions, rage, can overcome us and can overcome anybody,” Hynicka said. “To have somebody there as a way to reengage that energy and redirect that energy in purposeful, peaceful protest is essential.”
With communities from Dallas to Falcon Heights, Minn., to Baton Rouge, La., and everywhere in between still reeling from all the week’s bloodshed, Stanford this morning appealed for calm.
“Everybody needs to hit the pause button, just for a moment and look at the amount of lives that have been lost in the past three days,” Stanford said. “If you do that, it gives you an opportunity to look at it from a human perspective, as opposed to picking a side.”
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney echoed that sentiment in a statement he issued today:
“In the hours following the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and now the deaths of the officers in Dallas, I searched for the right words to express my profound grief. The phrase ‘my thoughts and prayers’ has lost its meaning to me, and I do not know what it’s like to walk in a black man’s or a police officer’s shoes. So, instead of speaking, I listened.
“I listened to the story of Alton Sterling. A father.
“I listened to the story of Philando Castile. A mentor.
“I listened to the story of Brent Thompson. A police officer and newlywed.
“In the hours and days to come, we will learn more about the other four Dallas police officers, Brent Thompson, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Their stories will break our hearts and enrage our souls, but I ask all Philadelphians not to react in hate, anger or violence, but instead to grieve with the nation by listening to one another.
“I have profound respect for the peaceful protestors who marched in Philadelphia last night to demand change, and I have a profound respect for the Philadelphia police officers who stood ready to protect them and who put their lives on the line for this city every day. The only way to achieve the peace we all seek is to listen and to be willing to hear one another.”