13 police officers injured as George Floyd protest escalates in Philly; Kenney implements curfew

A police car burns outside a looted Apple store in Center City.

A police car burns outside a looted Apple store in Center City. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Updated 12:15 a.m. Sunday

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As protests against police violence and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis continued into Saturday evening in Philadelphia, Mayor Jim Kenney denounced escalating displays of violence and destruction.

“The peaceful protests earlier were touching showings of our collective grief,” Kenney said. “But the anger displayed now and this afternoon cannot continue.”

Kenney spoke outside the Fire Administration Building on Spring Garden Street alongside Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and other local leaders.

The mayor conceded that “we all have reasons to be deeply disturbed by systemic racism” before he condemned the day’s disorder.

In all, 13 police officers were injured during Saturday’s protests, according to Outlaw. More than 100 people were arrested, including 52 for violating curfew and 43 for looting and burglary. At least nine fires were set to vehicles and other structures. The number of civilians injured was not immediately made available.

Kenney thanked police for what he described as their restraint while demonstrators spit on officers and threw bottles and water and urine at them.

Outlaw said those actions “were not in furtherance of any noble ethical issue or cause.”

Officials estimated that, at its peak, approximately 3,000 demonstrators were present.

The mandatory citywide curfew, which went into effect at 8 p.m., will remain in effect through 6 a.m. Sunday. Only people who have essential duties will be allowed outside.

Word of the curfew came as crowds were looting stores along Chestnut and Walnut streets in Center City, hitting businesses such as the Apple store. Modell’s, Foot Locker, Philadelphia Runner, H&M and The Children’s Place. Storefronts at Wells Fargo and WSFS banks were smashed. Office furniture was burning in the street. Mannequins were carried off. A police car that was set on fire was exploding.

At 8 p.m., as the curfew took effect, city street sweepers and water trucks came out immediately, in what appeared to be a strategic move to barricade streets.  Some shoving took place as police attempted to clear the streets.

As the crowds began to disperse around 8:45 p.m, about 200 protesters who did not appear to be part of the group carrying out the looting gathered near the LOVE statue. They said they would rally again at the statue at noon Sunday.

At 10:19 p.m. Saturday, the mayor tweeted that the city’s curfew would be in effect again from 8 p.m. Sunday until 6 a.m. Monday. “During this time, people may leave their homes only to go to work at essential businesses or to seek medical attention or police assistance,” Kenney tweeted.

Also Saturday night, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a disaster emergency declaration “to provide all necessary assistance to municipalities as they respond to the escalation of protests in Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh,” a statement from his office said.

“People have every right to speak out and demonstrate, but it’s unacceptable to take advantage of protests to incite violence, harm others and destroy property,” Wolf said. “This declaration authorizes the commonwealth and its agencies to assist municipalities in their response to de-escalate violence and keep our communities safe.”

The statement quoted Kenney as saying, “I appreciate Governor Wolf for heeding our request for additional state support. This emergency declaration will help Philadelphia access resources and police support from other jurisdictions, including other states, as we manage the impact of this weekend’s demonstrations.”

The day of protests began at noon Saturday at City Hall’s Dilworth Plaza with a peaceful demonstration in response to Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, where an officer has been charged with Floyd’s murder. 

But over the course of just three hours, the quiet display of solidarity radically transformed into angry confrontations between demonstrators and law enforcement at several points along a route between the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Municipal Services Building, the Broad and Vine interchange of I-676 and police headquarters.

Multiple police cars were set on fire; others were reportedly vandalized. And a crowd attempted to pull down the statue of Frank Rizzo and set a fire at the base of it.

Meanwhile, outside the Roundhouse, well over 100 demonstrators squared off with officers at the entrance to the police administration building. Police had barricaded numerous entry points to the facility. Protesters faced the police line yelling chants, waving signs and at times hurling insults. Eventually, the group slowly dispersed.

Michael Wilson, an organizer with the Philly Coalition for REAL Justice, attributed the destruction to crowd anger.

“A car burned down there and stuff, you stick around tonight, you might see a whole lot of things burned up, it’s just anger,” Wilson said. “It doesn’t replace the young man saying, ‘I can’t breathe.’ All you’re seeing is a reaction to what the police are doing, that’s all this is, it’s not bad, it’s not good, it’s just a reaction. If the capitalists lose a whole lot tonight or tomorrow, we don’t care, we really don’t care, it’s the price they pay for the way they treat us.”

He said the protests will not stop as long as police departments can hire officers who sport Nazi tattoos or are a part of extremist groups.

At 5:30, the Philadelphia Police Department tweeted that criminal acts and vandalism would not be tolerated and Mayor Jim Kenney asked protesters to go home.

They did not. A crowd remained gathered near City Hall as car fires continued to burn. Businesses in the area were vandalized or broken into. The Starbucks kiosk at Dilworth Park was also set on fire. Police officers sprayed protesters from inside a SWAT van, and were pelted with orange traffic cones and bottles in return.

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

Additional protests are planned in other parts of the state throughout the weekend. In an earlier statement, the governor encouraged people to speak out against the racial injustices happening in the country, but also asked people to stay safe and peaceful. 

An early calm

A noon protest at City Hall began at Dilworth Plaza with participants socially distanced. They took a knee for nine minutes — a reference to the nine minutes a police officer’s knee allegedly pressed into Floyd’s neck — and observed moments of silence to show support for victims of police violence.

Several hundred people gathered, with a small police presence on hand. As the racially mixed crowd grew larger, social distancing diminished.

G. Lamar Stewart of Philadelphia and his 5-year-old son, G. Lamar Jr., join the protest at Dilworth Park. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Chants during the peaceful protest included, “We deserve better,” “For our kids,” and “Our lives matter.” Organizers passed out bottled water and masks to crowd members.

David Walker came to the event with his daughter and mother, who he said has been protesting since the 1960s.

“Someone like George Floyd dies senselessly at the hands of the police,” Walker said, “you can’t just sit around. People have to get out, they have to take action, and most importantly they have to vote in November.”

Walker believes the city is trying hard to make improvements to the police department and criminal justice system, but adds policies need to be put into practice.

“It’s training, training, training. And then in any group, there’s bad actors. Those bad actors have to be held accountable,” Walker said.

The noon event came together largely through social media efforts among concerned citizens. One of the organizers, Josh Yeboah, called on City Council to vote against Kenney’s budget, saying it gives too much money to police at a time when there’s a need for more social services.

“It’s your tax dollars being spent. Shouldn’t you get to choose and decide what it pays for?” Yeboah said, reading a prepared statement to members of the media ahead of the noon demonstration.

Protesters at Dilworth Park kneel for nine minutes as they mourn the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A little after 1 p.m., protesters began to disperse the area around City Hall and started making their way up JFK Boulevard toward the Philadelphia Museum of Art to attend the second demonstration of the day, set for 2 p.m.

The second event, dubbed “Solidarity Against Police Terrorism,” taking place on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art was organized by Black Lives Matter Philly and Philly for REAL Justice.

The crowd at the Art Museum continues to grow, protesting the police violence that killed George Floyd in Minneapolis. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Its organizers described the Art Museum event as “a solidarity action in support of Minneapolis, and the many other uprisings” that occurred this week in Louisville, Atlanta and other cities across the country protesting police violence against Black individuals. Participants in this event were asked to wear masks to protect themselves and others from the coronavirus, as Philadelphia is still in Gov. Tom Wolf’s “red” phase of the stay-at-home orders.

Protesters said they were tired of still having to rally against police violence.

Danyca Lok said she has been going to Black Lives Matter protests for years, going back to the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida. She held a sign that said, “My friends shouldn’t fear for their lives when we go out.”

“I’ve experienced that countless times … every time me and my friends went out, we always got followed by a cop, or we always had to take a different route somewhere because I have felt like my friends’ lives were in danger.”

She said nothing will change unless people keep protesting and speaking out. She is 18 and will be voting for the first time this year.

Myia Bonifacino said, “It’s ridiculous that we have to even sit out here and do this, why are we different than everyone else … what, because of the color of our skin?”

Her sign read, “I can’t believe I’m still protesting this [expletive.]”

“I think everyone’s sick and tired of it … we should be able to just live a normal life, just like everybody else, like there’s absolutely no reason that we have to go out of our way to fight for simple things.”

Yalon Dirickson-Martin, who is 55 and came with her daughter, said she hopes more people will listen to what the Black community says.

“Unfortunately, some of America don’t believe what we’re saying until they see it on video, but we’re saying the same thing, we’re saying, ‘We need to breathe,’” she said. “I see people of all colors and races and socioeconomic levels all joining together because people, we are just sick and tired of this.”

Michael Samuels said he also has been to many Black Lives Matter protests over the years, and will keep going until the police stop taking Black lives.

“This ain’t ending till we get what we want,” he said. “This isn’t just a week or a month thing, or two months, three months, we’re going to do this for a year if we have to, 10 years, we’re going to keep pushing.”

The Art Museum protest drew a larger crowd than the morning’s City Hall gathering, with less social distancing. It attracted a larger police presence, as well.

The mood changes

About 3 p.m., the crowd began marching down the Parkway toward City Hall then along North Broad Street. Some businesses and buildings were vandalized with spray paint along the way.

No one appeared to be leading the crowd.

The crowd stopped at Broad and Vine streets, near the entrance to I-676 — which was blocked by police vehicles. Some protesters were standing on top of the parked police cars, as well as spray-painting them. State police officers in riot gear were on the scene.

One of the vandalized parked police cars was set on fire and was burning with large flames. Police set a wide perimeter around the vehicle at Broad and Vine streets. Loud booms were heard by reporters on the scene, what appeared to be the car exploding.

Only a handful of protesters were spray-painting and wrecking the cars. At one point, a protester stood on top of a car and pleaded with people to stop, saying, “We are not here to fight the police, we are not here to hurt anyone.”

The Philadelphia police and Pennsylvania state troopers separated the crowd, surrounding them into smaller groups with raised batons and bicycles, and slowly forced people to disperse.

Protesters march from City Hall to the Art Museum, calling for justice for George Floyd and an end to police brutality and racism. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

In a Twitter thread Saturday morning, Mayor Kenney commented on the recent murders of Black Americans — including George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia.

“You should not have to bear witness to the killing of yet another unarmed Black person,” Kenney wrote. “You should not have to feel as though society believes your lives are less valuable than white Americans. And you should not fear for your lives — or for your loved ones — when leaving the house.”

The mayor added that he understands the “need to stand up and make your voices heard,” but pleaded with participants to protest peacefully, social distance as much as possible, and wear masks.

Large protests over Floyd’s death — as well as police brutality and racial violence in America — started Tuesday in Minneapolis and have grown to cities nationwide.

Almost all protesters were wearing masks, some even brought boxes of masks to pass out to people who wanted one.

Floyd, 46, died in law enforcement custody on Monday after police arrested him based on a report of a counterfeit bill being passed at a Minneapolis convenience store.

A video of his arrest, taken by a witness, shows Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pinning Floyd to the ground with his knee on Floyd’s neck. In the video, Floyd pleads with the officers that he can’t breathe.

Chauvin was arrested on Friday and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Protests have been held in Minneapolis daily, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz fully mobilized the National Guard on Saturday, saying the unrest is “no longer, in any way, about the murder of George Floyd.”

Protest hits Wilmington

In Wilmington, protesters shut down a section of I-95. After demonstrators spoke with Delaware State Police, many moved off the highway by mid-afternoon.

Earlier in the day protesters broke windows on Market Street between Sixth and Seventh streets. A Starbucks at Seventh and Market had all its windows smashed out. The Starbucks has been closed since the end of March because of the coronavirus. The location is the former site of the Wilmington campus of Delaware State University.

Across the street, wait staff from the restaurant Bardea took brooms to break the shattered glass. The restaurant had just reopened after almost two months due to coronavirus precautions. It had just restarted sidewalk dining

A beauty supply store next to WHYY’s Wilmington newsroom had its window shattered as well.

The Associated Press contributed reporting. 

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