Protests continue as Philly cleans up

Melissa Robbins, an advocate and former City Council candidate, organized a protest at the Octavius Catto statue outside City Hall on Sunday. 
PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

Philadelphia entered a different kind of shutdown on Sunday, the second day of protests in the city against police brutality following the death of George Floyd.

Businesses were ordered to close immediately Sunday afternoon, the Pennsylvania National Guard was called in, and authorities restricted access to Center City by closing streets, bridges and subway stations.

A curfew, which was to begin at 8 p.m., was hastily moved up to 6 p.m., as officials attempted to prevent a repeat of Saturday night’s unrest.

President Donald Trump, on Twitter, called for more to be done and said the city should request the help of the U.S. National Guard.

Security alarms rang out from ransacked stores along Walnut and Chestnut streets as groups of volunteers swept up roads and removed graffiti and crews worked to board up businesses.

“I think people were justified in their anger,” said Rachel Rose, a Fishtown resident who came with a broom. “But honestly I just don’t want anybody to get hurt.”

Peaceful protesters again gathered, this time at the Octavius Catto statue outside City Hall. Catto was a black civil rights activist who was shot and killed on South Street while on his way to vote in 1871.

The crowd, smaller than Saturday’s demonstration but still significant, listened to speakers, chanted and held signs.

“This isn’t about Derek Chauvin. This is about all the Derek Chauvins in the world,” said Melissa Robbins, an advocate and former City Council candidate, before turning to nearby police officers and saying: “Your colleagues are killing us.”

Chauvin, a white police officer, was captured on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck as other officers stood by in Minneapolis. He was charged with third-degree murder Friday.

PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

Organizers and protesters spoke about Floyd, but they also mentioned Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was killed by white residents earlier this year. Robbins, who organized the gathering, cited others who activists believe were unjustly killed, including Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.

Rodney Muhammed, president of the Philadelphia NAACP, called racism a “virus” and said having a white police force patrolling majority black neighborhoods is a “failed project.”

“We can’t allow for this to continue by using the same formula,” he said. “We can’t allow someone else to tell us our value on this planet.”

Muhammed said much of Saturday’s violence was caused by a rogue group of “plants,” a sentiment echoed by some, including Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw.

Outlaw, during a noon press briefing, expressed support for the peaceful protests, but indicated that some of those looting were white and not from Philadelphia.

“It’s only a distraction and it hurts and it hinders,” she said. “They were here specifically with the intent to destroy and, quite frankly, those folks didn’t look like me.”

Police have not provided specific information about those who were apprehended.

Authorities said more than 200 people were arrested Saturday through Sunday afternoon, including four for assaulting police and 54 for looting.

Thirteen officers were injured, including one who is still hospitalized after being run over by a car. Police are still searching for the driver of that vehicle.

Four law enforcement vehicles were set on fire, and at least nine blazes broke out during the unrest.

During a noon press briefing on Sunday, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw expressed support for the peaceful protests. PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk 

Outlaw admitted that police did not respond swiftly enough to the disturbances but said the department was able to implement a strategy.

“We did not sit back and sit on our hands,” she said, adding that police would be better prepared Sunday.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 said officers showed “incredible restraint” under difficult circumstances. The union condemned Floyd’s death but took issue with demonstrators.

“It’s very difficult to be sympathetic to the cause when protesters assault police, loot and vandalize our city,” the FOP said in a statement.

Mayor Jim Kenney said the looting and vandalism desecrated the message protesters delivered earlier Saturday. However, he said he was given hope after touring Chestnut and Walnut streets and seeing the cleanup effort.

The statue of Frank Rizzo in front of the Municipal Services Building, which has long been controversial, drew the ire of demonstrators Saturday. People defaced the monument and tried to rip it down.

Kenney, who has promised to remove it, said he can’t wait to see the statue taken away. He said the city has been waiting to remove it as part of another project. It’s a difficult task because it’s bolted into the stairs, which form the roof of an underground complex, Kenney said.

“I’ve never liked that statue. I don’t think it was deserved in the first place, and I didn’t put it there,” he added. “We’re going to move it, hopefully by another month or so.”

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