Philadelphia City Council video conference

Members of the City Council met Thursday for the first time via a video conference since demonstrations and civil unrest gripped Philadelphia nearly a week ago.

Philadelphia City Council members took a knee on Thursday to recognize the police killing of George Floyd.

Council President Darrell Clarke, who led the session conducted via video conference, said Floyd has become a “symbol of all of the things that could be wrong in this country.”

“We wanted to recognize what we’re going through as a nation and as a city,” Clarke said before he and members took a knee and held a moment of silence to begin the session.

But Clarke’s comment during the virtual session made no mention of whether council members also were kneeling in solidarity with demonstrators, who have filled Philadelphia’s streets for six days in response to the May 25 police-custody death of Floyd in Minneapolis.

Asked after the session in an email whether Clarke would kneel alongside protesters, his spokesman, Joe Grace, said the council president would kneel with demonstrators.

The council president “strongly supports peaceful, non-violent protests and demonstrations this week, and understands the anger and frustration beneath it all,” Grace said.

Some police officers and public officials have knelt beside demonstrators. This week Police Commissioner Danielle said, “Absolutely — I would kneel” with protesters.

The Council’s session was the first since demonstrations, vandalism and looting gripped the city over the death of Floyd, a Black man whose neck was pressed down while restrained on the ground by the knee of a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, who has since been charged along with three others involved in the arrest.

Floyd, 46, was being taken into custody on May 25 over allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill.

The demonstrations in Philadelphia began Saturday and have continued every day since. Each night, Mayor Jim Kenney has imposed a curfew.

Some council members advocated for investing in Black communities, halting law enforcement spending and rooting out structural racism in the city.

Councilwoman Jamie Gauthier, of the 3rd District, said she rejected Kenney’s proposal to hike funding for police by $23 million over last year while cutting “many, many things that can really help Black and brown people.”

Gauthier called for the city to prioritize investments in the city’s Black communities and to “devote resources to the things beyond policing that keep people safe and thriving,” including schools, affordable housing, recreation centers and libraries.

“Those are things that keep people out of the criminal justice system,” she said. “We’ve been taking a very narrow view of what public safety means in this city.”

The increased spending for police is included in Kenney’s revised $4.9 billion budget, which includes $649 million in spending reductions, a hiring freeze, layoffs and cuts to other departments. Police department officials are scheduled to testify on June 10 at a City Council budget hearing.

At-large Councilman Derek Green said individuals and businesses must go beyond marching to effect lasting changes that would address the economic injustice in African-American communities.

“In this city African Americans make 44% of the population but we do not represent 44% of the wealth of this city,” he said.

City Council was expected to unveil a program on Friday that Clarke said would “be a down payment” to “address the ills” facing the city, including legislative and budgetary initiatives. He did not elaborate Thursday.

“The prize,” he said, “is making sure everybody has an opportunity.”

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