PHILADELPHIA - Saturday's violence not only angered and upset the Philadelphia community, but it also profoundly upset city officials who openly denounced the atrocious acts Sunday afternoon.
Both Mayor Jim Kenney and Commissioner Danielle Outlaw took to the podium to share their thoughts on the peaceful protests that eventually gave way to looting and riots.
The peaceful nature of the Justice for George Floyd protest was overshadowed by ensuing violence and ultimately prompted a strong police response and a mandatory, city-wide curfew set to resume at 8 p.m. Sunday. The curfew will remain in effect until 6 a.m. Monday.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Outlaw initially reacted to the death of George Floyd on Friday by saying communities of color are tired of constantly reliving atrocities.
Her somber, hopeful attitude was replaced by a renewed anger for the persistent violence that has plagued Philadelphia since long before her tenure began in February.
Only days ago, Commissioner Outlaw stated that the city's problem with violence was "ridiculous" and "this has to stop" after four men were shot during a drive-by shooting in the Kensington section of the city.
That same contempt for exhibited for the continued violence witnessed Saturday was again expressed in her address during Sunday's press conference.
In part, Commissioner Outlaw stated:
“There’s a lot of hurt. There’s hundreds of years of institutionalized racism, systemic racism — all of those things. People are angry and upset and are hurting. And this pandemic just brings out all the inequities that we know and that people have been saying for a very long time. They’ve been present. And you even hear people say: ’You know, we took a knee peacefully and we didn’t didn’t get the attention. We had to tear stuff up to finally get attention.” But with that said, there are other ways to address this. We’re not tearing up our own neighborhoods. And the problem with that is we’re not the ones tearing up our neighborhoods — it’s the people that are coming from outside of the city to tear up our city and leave. What does that do for the cause? So again, I think that is very telling — communities should know and we all need to stand together and hold each other accountable. And hold these folks, who think that they can come into our city, tear up our city and leave, and hold them accountable as well. So again, we encourage peaceful demonstration, we encourage lawful assembly but anything beyond that will not be tolerated.”
Upwards of 15 police officers were injured and numerous arrests were made as people rioted and left behind a trail of destruction city-wide Saturday night.
Early morning Sunday, FOX 29's Steve Keeley toured the devastation in Center City while interviewing community members that were making an effort to clean up the mess.
As a result, officials declared that the city had to be shut down in order to restore order and would be accomplished by closing the Benjamin Franklin Bridge as well as all of the streets in Center City.
The decision was effective as of 12 p.m. Sunday and is indefinite until officials decide the clean-up of Center City is sufficient.
In a statement released Sunday, Mayor Kenney spoke out against the violent riots and in support of peaceful protesting:
"The destruction we saw last night in Center City saddened and disappointed me beyond words. I’m sure it saddened every Philadelphian who takes pride in our city— especially the thousands of Philadelphians who came out earlier in the day yesterday to peacefully yet forcefully protest.
They made a tremendous statement about their decades of anger over a system that degrades Black Americans because of the color of their skin. That statement was important. And it in no way should be diminished by other organized groups of people who tried to cause chaos in our city. Those vandals in Center City did a great disservice to the many others who chose to speak out forcefully against institutional racism and violence at the hands of police.
In looting downtown, these individuals not only desecrated private businesses, they also desecrated the important message that was heard in the earlier, peaceful protests. Because the people throughout this country who want to see a continuation of systemic racism, including in the White House, will use the damage, violence, and looting to perpetuate their sick hatred."
Before the night of fires and looting, there was peace among the protesters who gathered outside City Hall to kneel for George Floyd and chant. As they marched from City Hall to the Art Museum, an even larger protest remained a scene of peace.
Within hours, the scene shifted leaving Philadelphia damaged and on edge as riots wreaked havoc.
Attorney and former police officer Shaka Johnson joined Lauren Johnson on Good Day Philadelphia to share his perspective on the current events.
Johnson observed the protesters peaceful demonstrations and remarked that they spoke of a longstanding frustration finally manifesting itself. However, the presence of those whom participated in the riots shows that "amongst us, there are saboteurs."
According to Johnson, those involved the riots turn First Amendment rights that protect the freedom to assemble in fact exploit those rights and turn it into "something much more nefarious."
The collective grief is palpable and understandable, but turning the frustration into violence is problematic and a juxtaposition to what is essential to effecting change.
Johnson is familiar with strife between authorities and the public as he was called in to help diffuse a standoff between Maurice Hill and police in August 2019.
However, he made it clear that he is "a fan of civil disobedience" but urges activists and citizens interested in demonstrating that they need to be careful.
"Be careful who you get behind, whose movement you get behind," Johnson stated. "Every one becomes a leader because everyone has a social media account. All it takes is for someone to tweet out or to send out a message "Let's meet up at this location" and this person has now organized a rally."
The power of social media and ease of organizing protests can lead to the riots Philadelphia witnessed Saturday.
Reverend Dr. Alyn E. Waller, senior pastor at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, gathered alongside other city officials to address the public Saturday evening.
Reverend Dr. Waller joined Lauren Johnson on Good Day Philadelphia in order to share his perspective from a religious angle.
Although Reverend Dr. Waller has not been able to lead a congregation due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, he has remained devoted to offering counsel to those in need.
"I understand the heartfelt pain that people are experience right now," Reverend Dr. Waller said when asked his thoughts on people gathering in such numbers despite the ongoing pandemic.
As rapidly as peace and violence have been seen in the last week, Reverend Dr. Waller advocated for the recognition of the unrest in Philadelphia.
"We have to recognize that we live in the largest, poorest city in America and there is unrest there. So we have to interpret the actions of people," the Reverend stated. "And begin to address the underlying factors of poverty, the underlying factors of lack of proper education, investment in a city budget."
But Rev. Waller said that those changes are not impossible and achieving justice while keeping the peace can be balanced.
"We can say no to last night, but we can yes to justice and there are things that can be done," Reverend Dr. Waller told FOX 29.
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