West Philadelphia

$9.25M Settlement Reached in 2020 Philly Protests Where Tear Gas Was Deployed

A multimillion dollar settlement has been reached in a case involving police use of force on protestors who marched on I-676 and through West Philly in Spring 2020

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Attorneys representing protestors and residents of West Philadelphia have reached a settlement with the City of Philadelphia in a case that revolves around how the City's police department used force -- including deploying rubber bullets and tear gas -- against peaceful demonstrators and members of the community in spring of 2020.

On Monday, attorneys with the Legal Defense Fund, the Abolitionist Law Center, and the law firm of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg and Lin announced a $9.25 million settlement with more than 340 individuals for, what they called the Philadelphia Police Department’s "excessive, militaristic use of force during peaceful protests" in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

“Today’s monetary compensation is an important step, but it does not represent full accountability for the harm that occurred. Police fired tear gas at our family’s home, leaving my three-year-old son crying and my six-year-old son completely terrified. The house was enclosed in gas, and we were trapped inside with nowhere to go,” Shahidah, a plaintiff in the case, said in a statement shared with NBC10. “The city still has not given us a simple apology, and it must properly acknowledge this egregious act before true healing can begin. I pray this settlement will change how the city and its police force deal with those they are supposed to protect and serve."

According to the attorneys involved, while responding to protests, members of the City's police force used tactics, including "attacking peaceful demonstrators with rubber bullets and pepper balls and other uses of force, even harming demonstrators and uninvolved residents with chemical munitions."

This settlement concerns four cases that emerged from the conduct of officers on May 31 and June 1 of 2020, during protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

"We were out there to protest deadly police brutality and police brutality is what we received," Gwen Snyder, a plaintiff in the case, said on Monday.

The City will need to pay a total of $9,250,000, the attorneys said, to "those harmed by the PPD’s conduct."

Mayor Jim Kenney, in a statement released Monday, said that he believes this settlement is a step "toward reconciliation."

“The pain and trauma caused by a legacy of systemic racism and police brutality against Black and Brown Philadelphians is immeasurable. While this is just one step in the direction toward reconciliation, we hope this settlement will provide some healing from the harm experienced by people in their neighborhoods in West Philadelphia and during demonstrations on I-676 in 2020. We are proud of the progress made through the Pathways to Reform, Transformation, and Reconciliation initiative and continue to collaborate with the Philadelphia Police Department to implement reforms and keep our communities safe,” the mayor said.

Danielle Outlaw, commissioner for the City's police force, said that her department will work "non-stop" toward improving the work police do to protect the rights of protestors in the future.

“The mass demonstrations that took place in Philadelphia and across the nation in response to the murder of George Floyd were unprecedented in scope. The Philadelphia Police Department is a learning organization, and we remain dedicated to moving forward in meaningful and productive ways. Along with city, state, and community stakeholders, we will continue to work non-stop towards improving what we as police do to protect the first amendment rights of protestors, keep our communities and officers safe, and to ultimately prove that we are committed to a higher standard,” Outlaw said.

Also, attorneys said, through this settlement, the City has disengaged from the 1033 program, a federal program which provides state and local law enforcement with excess military weapons and equipment.

“Instead of protecting us, the Philadelphia Police Department waged war in our streets, tear gassed us, and shot us with rubber bullets. By blanketing a community with tear gas, they haphazardly attacked law-abiding citizens in their homes and on their sidewalks” Amelia Carter, a plaintiff in the case, said in a settlement. “There should be no place for the militarization of a police department that is supposed to serve us. The disengagement from the 1033 program, which arms law enforcement with military equipment, is a welcome start that prioritizes our safety. This settlement represents a significant stride in preventing the police department from being granted the authority to act against its own citizens in the future.”

Under the settlement, the attorneys involved said that the City has also committed to meet every six months with the West Philadelphia community to present data around police officers' use of force and respond to questions and comments from the community.

Philadelphia, the attorneys said, has also agreed to commit $500,000 to the Bread & Roses Community Fund, which is intended to provide counseling to victims of police violence and provide support for and promote community-led programming in the aftermath of police violence and misconduct.

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