Thousands of protesters shut down Interstate 676 in Center City for a short time Monday before state and city police used tear gas to push the crowd back to nearby streets on the third day of mass civil unrest in Philadelphia.
Dozens of arrests occurred as the human roadblock took place, and police used tear gas on the crowd.
The huge demonstration first formed an hour earlier at police headquarters near Eighth and Race streets before protesters headed south to Independence Mall and then west along Market Street. The protesters were peaceful.
About 5 p.m., the masses entered onto the Vine Street Expressway, shutting down the highway that bisects Center City. Traffic was completely halted in the middle of rush hour.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said a crowd of more than 100 people surrounded a state trooper alone inside a vehicle and began rocking it. When two SWAT teams arrived, members of the crowd threw rocks at them from the north and south sides as well as from bridges above, according to Outlaw.
Outlaw also said the crowd began rushing toward the officers and ignored numerous orders from the SWAT team to disperse. The SWAT teams then fired spray pellets, bean bags and tear gas at the crowd, according to Outlaw.
“We have repeatedly assured our great communities that we will protect, preserve, and uphold every person's constitutional right to protest. However, we can not tolerate acts of violence and other criminal activity,” Outlaw said.
“Today's deployment of tear gas was a means to safely diffuse a volatile and dangerous situation, and restore order, when it became increasingly clear that other measures were ineffective in accomplishing that necessary objective. We will continue to evaluate the propriety of all applications of force, and make determinations as the circumstances of each unique situation dictate.”
In a statement, Mayor Jim Kenney said that the use of tear gas during a demonstration was something that he "never wanted to witness" during his time as the mayor and that the decision to use it was not something that anyone took lightly. Ultimately however, he said it was necessary to get the crowd to disperse and ensure everyone's safety.
“After issuing several warnings, they made the decision to deploy tear gas to encourage the crowd to disperse. While I regret that it came to that, and I am disturbed by the footage that I’ve seen, I support decisions made by the Department to resolve today’s activity."
SkyForce10 was above the scene as some of the protesters tried to climb up a steep embankment and over a fence to get off the highway. Police made several arrests along the Vine Street Expressway and moved other members of the crowd to the Ben Franklin Parkway.
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Shortly before 6 p.m., a smaller crowd of protesters who were moved to the Parkway knelt to the ground while chanting, "George Floyd" and "Hands up, don't shoot."
The group then marched around City Hall after the citywide curfew began at 6 p.m. Around 7 p.m., an even smaller group returned to police headquarters at 8th and Race streets.
Police announced to the group that anyone breaking curfew would be arrested. More of the protesters then dispersed while a few others remained.
During the earlier stages of Monday's protest, police and members of the National Guard, took a knee in honor of George Floyd.
The National Guard members, armed with assault rifles, started arriving in Center City at 1 a.m. Monday. They were on patrol as daylight broke.
Protests began in the early afternoon, including one in the Spring Garden neighborhood. Dozens of bicycle-riding police officers silently stood nearby.
SEPTA said all bus, trolley and subway service in and out of Center City would be suspended indefinitely starting at 12 p.m.
For the past few days, violence and looting sprang up in numerous neighborhoods across Philadelphia as protesters simply outnumbered city and state police. Fires destroyed businesses and looters emptied stores in Center City, West Philadelphia, Port Richmond, Kensington and Hunting Park.
The Philadelphia protests, which began Saturday peacefully and devolved quickly, are part of national outrage sparked by the death of George Floyd. The unarmed black man died following a violent arrest by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said Monday that "we have been sitting on a powder keg for quite some time and it burst."
Over the weekend, 429 people were arrested, including 314 for failure to disperse and curfew violations, Outlaw said. There were 236 commercial burglary reports and 378 fires, including 14 confirmed arsons.
"We’re in the middle of one of the biggest crises in the history of this city," Kenney said.
A citywide curfew went into effect on Saturday evening for the first time in recent memory. By Sunday, Mayor Jim Kenney ordered the curfew moved up to 6 p.m. Sunday. SEPTA shut down all services, and resumed service Monday morning at 6 with the exception of some Center City bus routes. All city government operations were closed on Monday.
The curfew is planned to go into effect again at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.
One of the initial flashpoints Saturday was across from City Hall, where protestors defaced and attempted to topple the controversial statue of former police commissioner and mayor Frank Rizzo, known for his harsh treatment of minorities and "tough on crime" approach.
Kenney said Sunday that he did not approve of the statue and that the city would "accelerate" its removal.
As police clamped down on Center City by Sunday afternoon, some of the most serious outbreaks of violence and looting shifted to West Philadelphia and Kensington. The traditional epicenters of those two neighborhoods, 52nd and Market streets and Kensington and Allegheny avenues, were the scenes of fires, looting and police resistance throughout Sunday evening.
Outlaw said there were 18,000 calls to the city's 911 system on Sunday, up from an average of 3,000.
Among the arrests, most were for curfew violations, but also included one for assault on police, one for propulsion of missiles, one for rioting, one person for vandalism and 43 people for looting and burglary in Philadelphia.
At least a dozen officers were injured in the protests, one of whom was still hospitalized after being run over by a car, Outlaw said.
Mayor Jim Kenney said that many of those arrested Saturday night were from outside Philadelphia, and he called them “anarchists” and “right-wingers,” all the while praising the restraint shown by the city’s police department.
Of those arrested for curfew and failure to disperse violations, 73 of the 314 people arrested over the weekend have addresses outside the city, Outlaw said Monday.
Outlaw said the city had requested support from the National Guard and entered into mutual aid agreements with surrounding police departments. Officers from the other agencies guarded buildings while Philadelphia Police Department officers patrolled the streets.
Like Kenney, Outlaw expressed support for those outraged at the racial disparities in the country, but decried the violence and theft. She praised the multiracial peaceful demonstrations early Saturday, but said those who used violence later in the day and into Sunday, "frankly don't look like me."
During the weekend of riotous violence, looters also damaged stores on City Avenue, including a Target and a Wine and Spirits state liquor store in Overbrook.
NBC10's SkyForce10 helicopter captured video over Philadelphia's Hunting Park section of police officers clashing with a crowd of people on Broad Street and Hunting Park Avenue. Some members of the crowd were placed in handcuffs for failing to disperse and violating the city's curfew.
In South Philadelphia, members of the community group "Taking Back Philly Streets" lined up with police officers to prevent looters from entering a Target store.
After daybreak Tuesday, people could be seen looting North Philadelphia stores.
In Kensington, fire consumed a row of stores along the 3000 block of Kensington Avenue early Monday after looting targeted businesses nearby earlier in the night. Firefighters said it was too soon to see if the fire was intentionally set.
A two-alarm fire also tore through stores along North Broad Street after daybreak Monday.