Ascorched and shaken Philadelphia convulsed on Sunday evening as looting continued and officials ordered new restrictions on movement following a spectacularly destructive night and day of fiery protest.
The acrid scent of smoke from burned stores hung in the air. The Benjamin Franklin Bridge was closed indefinitely, and PATCO canceled trains into Philadelphia. All businesses were ordered shuttered ahead of a 6 p.m. Sunday curfew, even as stores in North Philadelphia and West Philadelphia were being looted and police cars vandalized.
The National Guard was expected to arrive in Philadelphia on Sunday night to bolster police deployment, city officials said. Meanwhile, Gov. Tom Wolf left open the possibility that the unrest could delay the city’s move to the color-coded “yellow phase” of lessened coronavirus restrictions at the end of the week.
SEPTA shut down all modes of transit until at least 6 a.m., and all city government offices will be closed Monday.
In the City of Brotherly Love and in metropolises across America, the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis officers has unleashed decades of frustration borne from the mistreatment of African Americans by police authorities.
“These are all of our children,” city Register of Wills Tracey Gordon told a crowd that peacefully assembled at City Hall on Sunday. “They deserve to have dignity. Everyone deserves to have dignity in this city and
in this country.”
When she saw the footage of Floyd’s death, a police officer’s knee on his neck, and heard him cry out for his mother, “it seemed like he was calling out to me.”
Property destruction continued on Sunday evening, as people smashed the windows of a line of parked police cars in West Philadelphia, near 52nd and Market Streets, and officers chased protesters along Sixth Street after they spray-painted a brick wall that is part of Independence Mall.
Tear gas blew across Market Street near 52nd Street. Michelle Rifken, 41, who has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, said the police presence provoked the unrest.
“It was completely safe this morning, it was beautiful, it was peaceful,” she said. “They came here, they’re a lightning rod for people’s anger. Seeing my neighborhood occupied by a militaristic police force? I am livid.”
The hashtag #phillyriots was trending on Twitter, with one person noting, “Protests are over.”
Upper Merion Township declared an “emergency” and enacted an 8 p.m. curfew after stores at King of Prussia Mall were looted and damaged by crowds estimated in the hundreds on Saturday. And on Philadelphia’s border with Lower Merion on Sunday, looters struck the shopping center around 77th and City Avenue, pulling merchandise from an Ulta; a Hair, Hair salon; Snipes athletic wear; a Wine and Spirits store; and a TJ Maxx. Earlier, the Target store at Monument Road and City Avenue was looted.
Many took to prayer on Sunday, including Herb Lusk III, a youth minister and son of the pastor at Greater Exodus Baptist Church in North Philadelphia.
“God hears the prayers of black people all over the world,” Lusk said on Sunday during a live-streamed service, sending “our prayers to the families of the victims of the police brutality. Prayers for those who went forth to protest peacefully and then things got out of hand.”
Broken glass and clothing littered Center City, and looting intensified on Chestnut Street on Sunday morning as people moved in and out of a Foot Locker and Modell’s near 16th Street while carrying bags of clothes and shoes.
Crowds began to disperse when police arrived about 10:30 a.m., though some individual confrontations intensified, with one officer pushing people and bystanders who were screaming in the faces of officers.
Workers began to clean the controversial statue of former Mayor Frank Rizzo, which had been pelted and spray-painted by demonstrators who unsuccessfully tried to pull it down on Saturday. Even its clean-up provoked disagreement, with people on social media asserting that, amid all the destruction, care for the divisive statue of Rizzo had been made a priority.
Mayor Jim Kenney said that wasn’t so, that “it got cleaned with everything else that got cleaned up.” He said that, in a month or so, the statue would be moved from its site outside the Municipal Services Building.
On Sunday evening the statue was being guarded by mounted state troopers and Philadelphia police officers.
“The destruction we saw last night in Center City saddened and disappointed me beyond words,” Kenney said on Sunday, noting that thousands of people had
peacefully demonstrated early Saturday to share “their decades of anger over a system that degrades black Americans because of the color of their skin.”
Philadelphia stood among more than a dozen major American cities that remained under curfew on Sunday.
The protests here and elsewhere took place during a coronavirus pandemic that has been blamed for killing more than 104,000 Americans, and officials worried that the huge numbers of demonstrators would fuel new outbreaks.
“If you were out protesting last night,” the mayor of Atlanta said, “you probably need to go get a COVID test this week.”
Philadelphia police arrested 215 people on Saturday, Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said on Sunday, the vast majority of whom will be ticketed for violating curfew orders or failing to disperse. Criminal charges were lodged against at least 48 people for offenses including burglary or looting, assaulting police, and weapons violations.
Those numbers are expected to grow as processing continues.
On the shopping district west of City Hall to Rittenhouse Square, such bigname stores as Urban Outfitters, Loft, Foot Locker, and H&M were shells of glass, ripped clothes, and spray paint. Empty shoe boxes were scattered across alleys and dumpsters lay overturned.
One police officer remained hospitalized with a broken arm on Sunday after a hit-and-run near Seventh and Chestnut Streets. In all, 13 officers were injured, according to the department.
Commissioner Outlaw conceded that police struggled to catch up to the pace of the unrest. No officers were seen for hours as looters smashed store windows along Walnut and Chestnut Streets.
On Sunday the head of the police union warned that assaults against police, vandalism, and looting “will not be tolerated.”
FOP Lodge 5 President John McNesby said officers showed “incredible restraint, bravery and courage” on Saturday.
“While our officers were literally in the line of fire attempting to keep the city safe, several Philadelphia politicians were running to get themselves on television,” McNesby said in a statement.
Fire crews stayed at Walnut Street near 17th Street early Sunday to hose down hot spots from a three-alarm fire that consumed several stores. The department responded to at least 856 EMS and fire calls on Saturday, according to the Fire Department.
The heart of the Philadelphia region was not the only site of protests — or loss.
Nine people were arrested amid looting and damage at the King of Prussia Mall, according to a statement by the Upper Merion Township Board of Supervisors.
Later, Atlantic City demonstrators began breaking windows and looting stores on Atlantic Avenue. Ralph Lauren and Finish Line storefronts were smashed.
A Harrisburg demonstration turned chaotic on Saturday as hundreds who marched through the city clashed with police in riot gear. Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse said in a tweet that two Capitol Police officers were hospitalized and several patrol cars were damaged by bricks.
But in Camden, city police officers including Police Chief Joe Wysocki locked arms with activists, clergy and other protesters to call for “justice.”
Mayor Kenney said that what happened in Philadelphia should not overshadow the message of the protests.
“Those vandals in Center City,” he said, “did a great disservice to the many others who chose to speak out forcefully against institutional racism and violence at the hands of police.”