Thousands of protesters descended upon City Hall, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Municipal Services Building decrying the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer.
Organizers demanded justice for Floyd’s death, which happened when a police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
While the protests started out peaceful, they devolved into vandalism and more by the early evening. Numerous businesses were looted, several cars were set ablaze, 13 police officers and an unknown number of civilians were injured, police said. Six people had been arrested by 8 p.m.
The violence prompted Mayor Jim Kenney to issue a curfew — the first in many years — that would be in place from 8 p.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. Sunday.
During an evening news conference, Kenney, Philadelphia Police Commissioner, Congressman Dwight Evans, state Sens. Vincent Hughes and Sharif Street, Council President Darrell Clarke, Philadelphia NAACP President Rodney Muhammad, Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church pastor Allyn Waller, and others pleaded for peace and calm.
“We believe that the righteous indignation being displayed now is right and will continue,” Waller said.
But the violence and vandalism was not productive, the pastor said.
“We affirm the actions of our mayor and the actions of our police force,” Waller said. “We affirm the actions of the good citizens of Philadelphia who will continue to come out and continue to fight until justice is seen in this country.”
Muhammad said the leaders noticed “real efforts” to be peaceful, but they also noticed “real efforts” to be destructive.
Officials said they believe the people vandalizing and looting stores were from outside the city.
Hughes called on people to go home and resume their peaceful protest in the morning.
At the noon protest at City Hall, approximately 500 people knelt for nine minutes to honor George Floyd, and observed moments of silence to remember other Black people killed at the hands of police.
“We can accomplish our goals if we stand as a people united. We are worth more. You are worth more,” said Josh Yeboah, a rapper known as Gyasi, who organized the protest.
The protesters chanted “We deserve better,” “For our kids” and “Our lives matter.”
Some literally cried for change.
“The emotions took over me,” said Deyauna Fisher, a 23-year-old mother from West Philadelphia. Fisher brought her 5-year-old son to the protest. “I didn’t even know how to explain to him where we were going. I told him we were going to make the world feel better. His response was ‘I hope the world feels better.’
“Brother George Floyd 100% needs justice,” said Christian S. Whittaker, a crisis manager for the City of Philadelphia. “What the cops did down there is egregious. What’s even worse, they didn’t have the gumption to stand up to each other and [say] it’s wrong.”
After about an hour, the protesters marched up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
More people joined them and the number of protesters swelled into the thousands.
The crowd shouted “Stop killing us!,” “No justice, no peace!” and “Not above the law!”
Ant Smith, of the Philadelphia Coalition for REAL Justice, spoke at a protest at the museum and said Philadelphian’s demands are consistent with the demands of people in Minneapolis and across the country.
People have been protesting in Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, Nashville, Memphis, Minneapolis, New York City and elsewhere.
“George Floyd’s [case] is identical to Eric Garner,” Smith said. “At this point, we realize it’s bigger than George Floyd. It’s just [the] way police are. Our demands are: defund the police department, immediately arrest all of the officers and support and retribution for the family.”
After the art museum rally ended, marchers took to Interstate 676 where they set fire to a Pennsylvania State Police car and attempted to enter the highway.
They then marched back to Center City where they surrounded the Frank Rizzo statue, covered it with graffiti, attempted to set it on fire and attempted to tear it down.
Rizzo, the city’s police commissioner in the 1960s and mayor from 1972 to 1980, was praised by supporters as tough on crime, but his tactics were often discriminatory against minorities.
Black leaders have called for his 10-foot-tall statue to be removed from the front of the Municipal Services Building for years. Kenney has promised to move the statue, but the date keeps getting pushed back.
Protesters also set fire to several Philadelphia police vehicles parked near City Hall and the Starbucks in Dilworth Plaza.
Philadelphia police tweeted that they appreciated the way protesters spoke and behaved earlier in the day, but vandalism would not be tolerated. They discouraged people from going into Center City.
Police sprayed the protesters with water from inside a SWAT van.
Kenney asked the protesters to go home.
“The peaceful protests earlier were touching showings of our collective grief,” he said. “The anger being displayed now cannot continue. Please have respect and dignity for each other and return home.”
The protesters did not heed Kenney’s words and instead ventured down 15th and 16th streets, and Chestnut and Walnut streets, where they looted and vandalized businesses. Some set trash ablaze.
Philadelphia police requested assistance from police in Bucks and Montgomery counties.
Tribune City Editor Christina Kristofic contributed to this report.