Peaceful protests in several neighborhoods call for police accountability; Outlaw, Kenney decry Fishtown vigilantism

Greater accountability for police action and recruitment aimed at attracting officers of color are urged by the elected officials.

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The Cobb family came to City Hall from their home in North Philadelphia to demand justice for George Floyd and others who lost their lives at the hands of police. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Cobb family came to City Hall from their home in North Philadelphia to demand justice for George Floyd and others who lost their lives at the hands of police. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Updated 8:00 p.m.

Protesters marched through Center City, Rittenhouse Square, and in the area of Broad and South streets Tuesday afternoon into early evening.

In Fishtown, protesters gathered at Girard and Montgomery avenues, where a line of police officers gathered outside the 26th Police District. The diverse group shouted “Black Lives Matter.” On the opposite side of the street was a group of mostly white counter-protesters. 

One police officer joined the front line of the Black Lives Matter protesters, calling on other officers to join.

At Frankford and Belgrade streets, Officer Quishanna Lee, who has served on the force for three years, knelt with protesters and cried. Some of Lee’s colleagues joined her. Lee also hugged a protester.

Officer Quishanna Lee, who has served on the force for three years, knelt with protesters and cried. Some of Lee’s colleagues joined her. (Layla A. Jones/Billy Penn)

Angelina Blackman said she and her two children participated in the demonstration after a group of white men stormed Fishtown with weapons Monday night shouting racial slurs.

“I’m here for a peaceful protest,” she said.

At the Art Museum about 5 p.m. protesters gathered on the steps, chanting, “Kneel with us,” at police officers nearby. The police officers did not abide by the request.

Protesters took a knee in front of City Hall in Philadelphia, where the National Guard is stationed. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Meanwhile at City Hall, a few police officers did join protesters in kneeling. Others played music and danced.

Nearby, however, at 10th and Market streets, police apprehended a woman and dragged her away, as a crowd yelled at police to let her go. Protesters told WHYY the woman only got “caught up in the crowd.” Just prior, police had built a barrier in the middle of the road with bikes. As they were surrounded by protesters, an otherwise peaceful march became tense.

Protesters marched through Center City Philadelphia Tuesday chanting “George Floyd” and “Breonna Taylor,” while advocating for their justice. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

In the same area, a man riding a bicycle charged at a police officer. Moments later, protesters circled police as they handcuffed a man and placed him in a police SUV.

Shortly before, District Attorney Larry Krasner watched a group shouting,  “No good cops in a racist system.” 

In Rittenhouse Square, several hundred protesters kneeled and chanted, “No justice, no peace.”

On South Street, a large gathering of protesters kneeled on the street, while business owners and residents stepped outside homes and businesses to cheer them on, according to NBC10.

Protesters also marched and chanted on Market Street toward Old City, according to NBC10.

Kenney, Outlaw decry vigilantism in Fishtown 

“I think there’s a shift coming, and I’m happy to be a part of it. Nothing makes me happier to see so many different people of different races out here marching together. I think when Martin Luther King said, ‘I have a dream,’ this is what he meant,” a Black protester told NBC-10 reporter Tim Furlong.

Mayor Jim Kenney condemned the vigilantism in the city’s Fishtown neighborhood that resulted in several injuries Monday night. At a press briefing Tuesday, the mayor said such actions would not be tolerated going forward.

Monday night, a group of men wielding baseball bats gathered around the city’s 26th Police Precinct as a protest group approached the neighborhood. According to video of the scene, they said they were there to protect police. The men physically clashed with protesters, resulting in at least one hospitalization.

“Their actions were antagonistic and made a bad situation worse. We do not condone vigilantism,” said Kenney during his Tuesday afternoon press conference. “ I’m glad police moved to disperse. I’m not happy about how long it took.”

“I am also disturbed by reports that some officers were seen high-fiving and taking photos. That is unacceptable,” Kenney said.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw reiterated Kenney’s sentiments, saying protecting police is not necessary.

“I didn’t ask them to do that. I don’t welcome that. I don’t invite them back. We don’t need them,” she said. “To be clear, we do not condone any acts of violence. We don’t take sides. Our mission is to always protect all persons.”

Police arrest dozens of protesters on Route 676 near 21st Street after they blocked traffic.
Police arrest dozens of protesters on Route 676 near 21st Street after they blocked traffic. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Outlaw also addressed Monday’s confrontation on I-676 yesterday, when a splinter group of a couple hundred protesters broke away from a planned marching route and spilled into the Vine Street Expressway. Police used tear gas to disperse and arrest the group.

Outlaw said protesters were throwing objects at the police and putting themselves and others in harm’s way by being on the freeway.

“The [tear gas] option was selected … when it became evident that no other options would be effective. We will uphold right to assemble and protest. Will can not tolerate acts of violence,” she said.

When asked about the alleged use of pepper spray by a police officer against a protester, Outlaw suggested some internal discipline may be imposed after an investigation.

“This incident and others will be fully investigated by internal affairs,” she said. “I will not allow the actions of some individuals to undermine efforts we are trying to make as an organization moving forward at this time.”

At the same briefing, U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D- Pa.) made comments critical of President Donald Trump’s statements Monday.

“What the president of the United States said and did last night is wrong, and only inflames the situation,” said Boyle. “Perhaps this is like Charlie Brown and the football: I ask President Trump to please refrain from pouring more gas on the fire. It affects people’s lives here in our community.”

Boyle also is asking Congress to reconvene soon, saying, “If there is an absence of leadership in the White House, it’s time for Congress to step up.”

“In times like this, we all matter and what we say matters,” he said. “We are ripping ourselves apart and the whole world is watching. It’s time for the American people to come together.”

Black lawmakers call for slate of police reforms

A group of elected Philadelphia officials, mostly African American members of City Council and the State House and Senate, called Tuesday for a slate of reforms aimed at improving the relationship between law enforcement and the community as well as increasing law enforcement accountability.

On the state level, they called on Gov. Tom Wolf to create a public database for police misconduct, outlaw the police chokehold, and create a deputy inspector general to oversee law enforcement agencies.

On a city level, several members of City Council demanded a residency requirement for Philadelphia police, action on the dozens of police who made racist Facebook posts, and a review board that gives civilians oversight. ma

At a morning news conference in front of the Octavius Catto Monument at City Hall, State Rep. Jordan Harris said the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week was the match that lit the flames on the gasoline that’s been spilling for years. A white police officer has been accused of third-degree murder in Floyd’s death. 

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Councilwoman Kendra Brooks called for a police review board with teeth and said she wants the public to be able to review police contracts before they’re negotiated.

Councilmember Isaiah Thomas said that on a city level, they want residency requirements for the Philadelphia Police Department and recruitment efforts aimed at attracting people of color. He said he wants young Black people in Philadelphia to know they have representation in City Hall.

Thousands call for Montco commissioner’s resignation after anti-Black Lives Matter post

Thousands of people are calling for the resignation of Montgomery County Commissioner Joseph Gale after he called Black Lives Matter a “radical left-wing hate group.”

More than 16,000 people have signed a petition on calling for action.

Gale posted a statement on Facebook Monday in response to looting and protests in Philadelphia, blaming the human rights group Black Lives Matter.

“The perpetrators of this urban domestic terror are radical left-wing hate groups like Black Lives Matter,” Gale’s statement reads. “This organization, in particular, screams racism not to expose bigotry and injustice, but to justify the lawless destruction of our cities and surrounding communities. Their objective is to unleash chaos and mayhem without consequence by falsely claiming they, in fact, are the victims.”

Gale added that police officers have been “demonized” by the “radical left,” and that the media has pushed a “bogus narrative of systematic police brutality and white racism.”

He called for “law and order” and blamed Mayor Jim Kenney and Democrats for destruction.

Commissioners Chair Val Arkoosh denounced Gale’s statement, writing on Twitter on Tuesday: “I believe we must treat each other with human decency, respect, and kindness. Progress comes when we listen to and learn from each other, lift each other up, and move forward together in our shared humanity.”

County Commissioner Ken Lawrence, who is Black, also spoke out against Gale on Twitter, writing, “I want you to know that Joe Gale does not speak for me at this time. I completely reject his hateful, false rhetoric.”

West Philly march aims to do something ‘positive’

About 50 teenagers and young adults rallied down 52nd Street in West Philadelphia on Tuesday to protest police brutality and the murder of George Floyd.

The march was organized by Tymair Johnson and Sam Sessoms, two college basketball players and West Philly natives who wanted to do something positive in the neighborhood and bring attention to police brutality.

“We don’t want to cause any problems,” Sessoms said. “We just want to come out here and use our college basketball platforms to make a change.”

The group, dressed in all black, chanted “No justice, no peace. Reform, we need,” and “Say his name: George Floyd,” as they marched from Haverford Avenue to Baltimore Avenue.

The protesters were escorted and flanked by police vehicles, and small clusters of officers stood on every block.

Police brutality and harassment is an emotional subject for some, and something the organizers have experienced. Sessoms called on the protesters to go beyond bringing awareness to police brutality, and to be there to support one another.

“I know it might be hard as a Black man or a female to come out and talk, but we be going through s–t,” Sessoms said. “If I want to break down and cry, I should be able to break down and cry in [his friend] Kyree’s arms right now.”

Sessoms and Johnson said they chose to rally down 52nd Street because it’s the heart of West Philly.

The pair also said they wanted to bring a positive protest to the area, after the popular shopping corridor fell victim to the break-ins and civil unrest that have affected the entire city.

They were met with cheers from neighbors and business owners, while drivers honked in solidarity.

Murphy calls Trump photo op `disgraceful’

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who has been careful not to alienate President Donald Trump during the COVID-19 pandemic as the state has relied on support from the federal government, had harsh words for the president Tuesday.

The Democratic governor unloaded on the Republican president when asked by a reporter what he thought of authorities clearing peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square in Washington with tear gas on Monday so Trump could have his picture taken at a nearby church.

“The notion of using tear gas or smoke devices or rubber bullets on peaceful protesters in exchange for a photo op is disgraceful,” Murphy said.

He added that New Jersey sent some National Guard troops to Washington after a request from the federal government for additional support. The troops are not policing but rather guarding federal buildings and monuments, Murphy said.

N.J. announces it will begin licensing police officers

New Jersey will begin licensing police officers to ensure that they meet a universal minimum set of qualifications for the job, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced Tuesday.

“While I’m proud of how we are at the forefront of so many different policing reforms and efforts, this is one where we lag behind,” he said.

The Police Training Commission recently recommended that the state create a licensing program for cops, after being asked by Grewal in December to study the issue. The commission will vote on the proposal next month, and Grewal, who is its chair, said he would vote in favor.

“Just as we license doctors, nurses, lawyers, and hundreds of other professions, we must ensure that all officers meet a baseline level of professionalism,” he said. “And we must ensure that those who cannot meet this standard can’t work in New Jersey.”

Grewal announced the proposal on Tuesday, though it was in the works long before protests over police violence swept the nation in recent days.

The program would apply to all of New Jersey’s more than 36,000 local, county, and state law enforcement officers. Grewal estimated that about 43 states have licensing or certification programs for police.

Camden County politicians speak out on Floyd killing

During an update on Camden County’s coronavirus pandemic response, U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross and County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. took the opportunity to discuss the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, in which a white police officer has been charged with third-degree murder.

“We all witnessed the torture and murder of an American, an African American who was pleading for his life … and although this is a new case, it seems to read the same chapter of a book that we’ve read time and time again,” Norcross said. He also called President Trump’s tear-gassing of peaceful protesters this past weekend “idiotic.”

Both Norcross and Cappelli mentioned the Camden Police Department’s response to protests Saturday, citing its desire to show solidarity and an emphasis on de-escalation.

At the briefing, Minister Wahim Muhammad also condemned Floyd’s death, calling it a “brutal public lynching” and suggesting instead police action based in community relationships.

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Man dies while blowing up ATM machine

Tuesday morning, Philadelphia police confirmed a man died while attempting to rob an ATM machine by blowing it up. Live explosives were found at the scene at Second Street and Susquehanna Avenue in Kensington.

The unnamed man was taken to Temple University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 8:50 a.m.

Overnight, many Philadelphians were kept awake by explosions in their neighborhoods  — particularly in West Philadelphia. Evidently many of those explosions were ATM machines.

ATM’s were apparently targeted overnight in Kensington
Live explosives were found at the scene. ATM’s were apparently targeted overnight, especially in West Philadelphia. (Catalina Jaramillo/WHYY News)

Death and mayhem overnight

A Philadelphia gun shop owner shot and killed a man who the owner said was among a group that had broken into the store.

Authorities say the shooting at the Firing Line Gun Range and Gun Store occurred around 4:20 a.m. Tuesday.

The shop owner told police he was staking out his store following an earlier burglary attempt and was monitoring a store security screen when he saw three or four men using wire cutters to break through the gate. The owner said he shot one of the men in the head while the man was inside the store, and the others then ran from the scene.

Police also say thieves are blowing up and stealing ATMs across Philadelphia.

Explosions were heard throughout the city overnight as at least ten machines were vandalized, mainly at neighborhood convenience stores and gas stations.

Police say the thieves usually set off explosive devices and made off with the cash. In other cases, they would steal just the machines.

WHYY’s Hannah Chinn and Avi Wolfman-Arent contributed material.

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