A few thousand protesters marched through Philadelphia's streets Tuesday afternoon demonstrating against racial inequality for a fourth day, and demanding criminal justice reform across the nation.
In the late afternoon and into the evening, the group wound through Center City, stopping at Rittenhouse Square and later traversing Broad and Market streets. The group took a knee at Independence Hall in the peaceful protest.
The march happened just hours after Black leaders discussed reforms they’d like to see in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
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“We have never seen anything like this in our lives. And this is the time for us to take control of what’s happening and really get to the root cause,” Councilwoman Kendra Brooks said in a gathering outside City Hall.
Standing in front of a statue of Black civil rights activist Octavious Catto, the group also recommended reforms including a deputy inspector general to review police misconduct; prohibiting officer chokeholds; and reducing the power of fraternal organizations to get cops back on the job after alleged misconduct.
Separately, in a live interview with NBC10, Sheriff Rochelle Bilal weighed in, also decrying the use of chokeholds.
“The criminal justice system is broken," said Bilal, a 27-year Philly police veteran. "We need to stop talking about reforming it and reform it."
The protests continued a day after police fired tear gas into a crowd gathered on Interstate 676, and some businesses were looted overnight. Nearly 700 people have been arrested and at least 25 police officers are injured from looting and unrest.
Despite that, Philly leaders say they do not want anyone taking the law into their own hands or pursuing "vigilante justice" against looters.
Meanwhile, a line of police officers and protesters gathered outside the 26th Police District in Fishtown, where a group of men with bats was seen outside Monday night. Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw criticized the department's slow response to break up the group of men. At the same time, she defended other departmental decisions like the use of tear gas on I-676 protesters, while stressing matter would be reviewed.
The department is adding looting-response patrols in each of the six police divisions as incidents continued to be reported overnight. A store owner fatally shot someone trying to rob a business and a 19-year-old was killed in a looting incident, Kenney said. And the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was looking into several explosions at ATMs in the city - one of which killed a man.
In Center City, streets are closed from Market to Walnut, river to river, as some Philly business owners rebuild.
The looting, closures and a nightly curfew followed daytime peaceful protests over Floyd's death in police custody.
In a news conference, Outlaw said the decision to deploy tear gas and white smoke Monday was made by the incident commander on the ground, whom she did not name. The decision apparently came after a State Police patrol car was being rocked back and forth, though it wasn't clear where that happened.
"When folks run up on a freeway, at that point, it's not deemed peaceful," Outlaw said. "There's moving vehicles, they can get hurt, people in the vehicles can get hurt."
"You have to make decisions as it occurs," she added. "I'm not going to Monday morning quarterback, but I can tell you it's very clear guidelines around our use-of-force policy."
Kenney and Outlaw also elaborated on injuries to police.
"We have officers that have been hurt with Super Soakers filled with bleach, squirted in their eyes," Kenney said. "Bricks being thrown through police car, windows where the glass shattered and embedded in an officer's eye."
And as some state residents went to the polls amid pandemic restrictions - and strong urging from Gov. Tom Wolf to vote by mail - the state extended the deadline to count ballots in some counties.
A curfew went into effect yet another night starting at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday and lasting through 6 a.m. Wednesday. The curfew started later than the past few days to give people voting in Tuesday's primary election more time.
The bulk of the arrests the past several days have been for curfew violations. District Attorney Larry Krasner told NBC10 that the looters who have been charged appear to be young Philadelphians not involved in the protests.
But on Monday, several protesters were arrested too after they marched on the highway. On Tuesday, exits from the highway in the city were blocked off. Drivers could only exit I-676 to merge to I-76 or I-95.
Since Saturday, Philadelphia police have arrested 488 people for code violation notices, 11 people for assault on police, three people for firearm violations, six people for theft, 192 people for looting and burglary, one person for rioting, one person for propulsion of missile and one person for vandalism.
The Pennsylvania National Guard has been stationed in the city, including at the statue of former police commissioner and mayor Frank Rizzo.
The protests and civil unrest is happening parallel to the COVID-19 pandemic. Philadelphia has been shut down since March to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. The city, along with its surrounding counties, is on track to move to to the "yellow phase" of reopening on Friday.
The city's health department on Tuesday asked anyone involved in protests to take precautions like getting tested for the virus even if they wore a mask.
"Because of the large number of people that have participated in protest activities in Philadelphia, the Health Department believes that there may be an increased likelihood that participants may have been exposed to COVID-19," the department said in a news release on Tuesday.
Health officials ask that protesters monitor their symptoms for fever, cough or shortness of breath for 14 days, limit exposure to others for the same time period, wear a face mask around others and get a COVID-19 test seven days after attending a protest. Officials say protest participants can visit any testing site and simply say they came in contact someone who took part in a protest, to preserve their anonymity.