Anti-racism and police brutality protests have returned to being largely peaceful, but Philadelphia officials are now worried about a new threat: stolen tanks of oxygen and acetylene.
“The tanks have not yet been recovered and are extremely dangerous in the hands of criminal actors and reckless or untrained persons,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said Friday as she and Mayor Jim Kenney briefed the public about the current unrest in the city.
Chief Inspector Frank Vanore said the tanks are normally used for welding, but both he and Outlaw noted their potential as explosive devices, especially given the recent explosion of ATMs around the city.
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The tanks were stolen from a commercial property on the 2300 block of Chestnut Street around 9 a.m. Thursday, Outlaw said. Three men cut a hole in the fence and made off with the tanks. The men wore hoodies, masks and gloves, making them difficult to identify, but Vanore said that given the size of the tanks, they would have needed a truck to get away. Anyone with information is asked to call 911 or 215-686-TIPS.
The concern is especially acute given that widespread protests prompted by the death of George Floyd have continued unabated. Officials expect thousands to demonstrate in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Saturday.
As such, Outlaw said the city can expect the continued presence of the Pennsylvania National Guard into next week. Also set to continue is a citywide curfew, which on Friday will begin at 8 p.m. and continue through 6 a.m. Saturday.
The city has been under curfew for nearly a week, with the ACLU of Pennsylvania on Friday sending a letter to Mayor Jim Kenney and other officials questioning the continued need for the measures and positing that they have been put in place not to to quell “crime and disorder” but to stymie “overwhelmingly peaceful and orderly protest activity” guaranteed by the First Amendment.
“The Constitution does not permit the city to order such a sweeping restriction on free speech and travel across this vast city to address isolated attacks on property,” the ACLU wrote, noting that many of those affected by curfews are people of color doing essential jobs.
Outlaw, though, said heightened safety measures must continue, especially given that despite decreasing in recent days, commercial burglary numbers remain high as compared to what they were before the protests began.
Another contentious issue has been police use of force during protests.
Outlaw noted various videos posted to social media which depict Philadelphia police officers apparently using excessive force. One shows a police inspector, which the Philadelphia Inquirer identified as Joseph Bologna, hitting a Temple University student in the head with a baton.
“Some of the images are disturbing and depict behavior that does not appear to be in accord with our policies. I am deeply concerned about this and, as a result, I have initiated several concurrent internal affairs investigations,” Outlaw said. She confirmed that one investigation involved Bologna.
With protests set to continue Saturday, the following traffic restrictions will be in place:
TRAFFIC BOX: Starting at 11 a.m., vehicular traffic will be prohibited from Callowhill Street to South Street from the Delaware River to Schuylkill River in Center City.
I-676 CLOSURE: I-676 will be closed in both directions from I-95 to I-76 starting at 11 a.m.
PARKWAY CLOSURE: The Benjamin Franklin Parkway will be closed to vehicular traffic starting at 5 a.m. from 22nd Street to the Art Museum.
SEPTA: Due to demonstration activity in the area of Center City and the Art Museum, SEPTA expects bus routes to be temporarily detoured as streets are closed. Check www.septa.org for affected bus routes. The Broad Street Line and Market Frankford Lines will continue to run on their normal schedule (except for stations closed due to COVID-19).
The Benjamin Franklin Bridge will remain open and PATCO will run a normal schedule.