As Philadelphia leaders gear up for potential civil unrest after the trial of ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, they are vowing to not repeat the mistakes they made last summer.
Mayor Jim Kenney, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and other leaders said Friday that the city will deploy more police officers, as well as 1,000 National Guard members and Pennsylvania State Police officers to keep Philadelphia safe, while adding that they have learned from last year’s errors.
“When we look back to the protests at our city last summer, we know that police and our administration made mistakes in how we handled these demonstrations,” Kenney said, alluding to the widespread looting, violence and heavy-handed police tactics on peaceful protesters seen following the death of George Floyd under the knee of Chauvin.
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Kenney and Outlaw have admitted police officers were unprepared and went too far, and various protesters have since sued the city.
The mayor also acknowledged that the department overpoliced some neighborhoods while making others feel “abandoned.” In West Philadelphia, businesses were extensively looted with little police intervention, and business owners there fear a rehash of what happened then occurring once again, West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative President Jabari Jones said.
“There’s a lot of concern. After they just put money into their shops and stores to restore them, they’re very concerned about what might happen following this verdict,” he said.
This time, as Philadelphia and the rest of the nation awaits a verdict in the Chauvin trial, leaders on Friday implored people to remain peaceful and said they are more prepared and have been making arrangements for weeks.
Starting Saturday, Philadelphia’s Emergency Response Center will be fully staffed, with city employees working alongside the National Guard and state police, Emergency Management Director Adam Thiel said.
Meanwhile, Gov. Tom Wolf authorized the deployment of 1,000 National Guardsmen to Philadelphia under an emergency order that could last up to 90 days.
“This declaration allows the commonwealth to take preemptive steps to ensure the safety of our fellow Pennsylvanians,” Wolf said in a statement Friday evening. “The activation of the National Guard supports the current efforts in Philadelphia to protect our beloved neighbors and city.”
More officers will be deployed to protect “critical infrastructure, businesses and neighborhoods,” Outlaw said, adding that they may be seen on foot, bikes or horseback.
“Please remember that they are all here to serve you. As always, public safety remains the No. 1 priority of the Philadelphia Police Department,” she said. She also said the department will try to minimize any disruptions, but that people should prepare for the possibility that some streets are closed to vehicular traffic.
Peaceful protests are planned over the next few days, and the department is committed to protecting demonstrators and community members while ensuring lawbreakers are arrested, the commissioner said.
“Our department has taken many of the lessons learned over the past several months and utilized them in our planning and deployment efforts,” Outlaw noted.