Center City Philadelphia shut down Sunday with continued looting, violence

Citywide curfew lifted 6 a.m. Monday

KYW Staff
May 31, 2020 - 1:12 pm
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UPDATED: 9:50 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Saturday's protests over the death of Black Minneapolis man George Floyd, who died on May 25 as a police officer knelt on his neck, led to a night of riots and violence in Center City. But looting has continued, causing Philadelphia officials to take added measures to control the situation in the aftermath.

A citywide curfew has taken effect beginning at 6 p.m. Sunday, through 6 a.m. Monday, with only people performing essential duties allowed on the streets. The curfew was originally scheduled to begin at 8 p.m, but was moved up as looting and violence continued.

In addition, Mayor Jim Kenney announced Sunday evening that all city government operations, with the exception of public safety departments, will be closed Monday, June 1. Meal distribution operations will be postponed to Tuesday.

First Judicial District courts and offices will also be closed Monday, though arraignment court, bail acceptance, and protection from abuse services will remain operational. Electronic filing will still be available.

At an earlier press conference, Kenney expressed his own grief over Saturday's events. He became emotional when he talked about going to survey the damage, and seeing residents turn out in great numbers with their brooms, shovels and trash bags to help clean up. "Despite my deep sadness," he said, "what I saw gave me hope."

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw reminded people the protests early Saturday afternoon were peaceful and orderly. "The criminal activity was not a part of those protests and serve absolutely no legitimate purpose," she maintained.

She conceded police were not as prepared as they needed to be when rioting broke out after the early protests, but said they acted quickly once the magnitude of the situation became clear.

"Once we did and we had the additional resources that we needed, we were able to execute that," she said.

Over 200 people have been arrested so far, for a range of violations from theft, burglary, looting and assaults on police officers, to firearm, curfew and code violations. According to Outlaw, those numbers will likely grow as more arrestees are processed.

Anecdotally, Outlaw surmised that a large portion of those arrested were from out of town and not African American.

"To hold up a Black Lives Matter sign and then use the destruction they were committing in the name of Black Lives Matter is not only a slap in the face but it's a setback for everything that's been accomplished by those who've been working to improve civil rights over many and many decades and those of us who are working internally to do our part to fix the issues within the criminal justice system," she said.

At an evening press conference, city managing director Brian Abernathy defended the Saturday efforts by police. "By no means was enforcement lax. It was a matter of manpower," he said.

Thirteen officers sustained injures, including broken extremities and chemical burns. All of them were treated at area facilities, though one officer who was hit by a car late Saturday night is still hospitalized.

Under orders from Gov. Tom Wolf and the state's Emergency Management Agency, 600 Pennsylvania National Guardsmen have been placed on active duty and mobilized to Philadelphia to help keep order. In addition, the city has reached out to surrounding counties and state police for mutual aid.

Abernathy said the National Guard will be "supporting law enforcement," "protecting sensitive areas" to allow officers to respond to communities.

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In Delaware County, Upper Darby has issued a township-wide curfew, effective at 8 p.m. through Monday at 6 a.m. Upper Darby officials asked residents to remain home unless performing essential duties, or seeking police or medical assistance.

Upper Merion Township has also issued a curfew beginning at 8 p.m., following attempts to loot the King of Prussia Mall Saturday night.

Center City access closed, commuters stranded

During the press conference, Outlaw announced vehicular access to Center City will be restricted from Vine to South streets, and from Schuylkill to Delaware rivers. This includes surface streets and expressway exits. 

The Ben Franklin Bridge has been closed until further notice by order of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, according to police.

SEPTA has shut down all transportation service until further notice, in accordance with the citywide curfew.

PATCO has stopped service in and out of Philadelphia as well, and is only operating in New Jersey.

Amtrak and NJ Transit also shut down service to and from Philadelphia. These announcements weren't made until close to closing time, which put some people in a tough situation.

A handful of people were seen outside 30th Street Station on their phones, frantically trying to figure out how to get home.

A city worker told KYW Newsradio she was going to hop on the Market-Frankford Line which brings her basically right to her doorstep, but this wasn't an option anymore. She was trying to call an Uber with no luck. When asked what she would do if she didn't get one, she said, "I'll sleep in the station."

Ten minutes later, she was no longer in sight.

Most people went the Uber and Lyft route, but that wasn't a feasible option for Robert Carter, who was planning to take a train all the way back home to Atlantic City. His train was scheduled for 20 minutes after service stopped.

"I guess (I'm) staying in the streets of Philly," he said. "They say the city is shut down."

While Carter understood what happened, he wished he had more notice.

"I think it's kind of messed up," he protested. "They should have had some sort of transportation for the people trying to get home as well, an extra bus or something."

Carter said he spoke with others who were in the same boat he was in.

As looting and violence continues, neighborhoods suffer

While parts of Philadelphia engaged in cleanup efforts, more instances of looting took place in the city.

The afternoon’s activity began as looters struck the commercial district in Port Richmond.

Police swarmed Aramingo Avenue, as crowds of looters smashed their way into stores including a Foot Locker, a Forman Mills and the Walmart at Aramingo Crossings. 

That’s where police arrested about a half-dozen looters. Police say they nabbed three or four of them as they tried to load merchandise into a car. One was arrested carrying a flatscreen TV past the broken glass around the smashed plate-glass sliding doors. 

A flat-screen television was left outside of a Walmart on Aramingo Avenue that had been looted. A second flat-screen was left in the parking lot.
Mike DeNardo/KYW Newsradio

At the Foot Locker, looters were seen carrying boxes of shoes out of the store, and hours after, a man was seen squeezing under the not-quite-closed security grate to go inside after police had left. 

Similar events happened at the Forman Mills, where moments after officers checked the inside of the store and left, a couple pulled up on an ATV. A woman got off, went inside, and came out with an armful of merchandise. 

Police had Aramingo Avenue closed for much of the day.

As darkness fell, a quick-hitting group in cars pulled up to the Five Below across the parking lot from the Walmart, smashed their way in, and drove away just as police arrived.

Dozens of people gathered in West Philadelphia Sunday to protest Floyd's death.

In her protest, Jasmine Peel stood with to a line of police with her fist raised for nearly a half-hour.

But the scene turned sour as police cars were set on fire, protesters tear-gassed, and multiple businesses vandalized.

With tears in her eyes, Peel watched as vandals broke into a Jamaican restaurant, and then a Family Dollar.

She said she came out to protest but she was disappointed in what was going on in her neighborhood. Peel said she felt emotional watching people looting the stores.

"It's kind of messed up for real, because we live here," she said. "We see it all over the world, but we're still doing exactly what they're doing. It's not getting anything done."

Peel said the looting is something that might make people feel good in the short term, but she's hoping it does not hurt them in the long run.

"It's not cool. At the end of the day, like everyone says, we still have to live here."

Multiple police cars were set on fire in the vicinity of 52nd and Arch streets, after a police officer was injured when a brick was thrown through his windshield. The car was in the area trying to block protesters.

The officer was taken to a nearby hospital and is expected to be alright. 

A heavy police presence responded, with what was described as a military-style vehicle circling the block. An officer was seen firing smoke bombs at protesters in an attempt to disperse them, as the vehicle rounded the block.

Tony Daws lives right around the corner from 52nd and Arch streets.

"I feel like I'm in a war zone," he said. "It's almost surreal."

Daws became emotional when he saw people break into his friend's Jamaican restaurant. While he wished the protests remained peaceful, Daws said he understood the anger.

"It's definitely unfortunate especially when you consider a lot of these businesses are owned by the same people who live in the neighborhood, and it's a shame that they use this as an excuse and cause other people hardship," he expressed.

Daws said he'll work with his neighbors to help rebuild what was lost in the melee.

Philadelphia officials ordered all retail stores to close prior to the 6 p.m. curfew, as the situation escalated across the city.

State response

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf spoke out Sunday afternoon against the ongoing violence and looting in Philadelphia and other cities in the commonwealth. He called for calm and for residents to protest in peace. 

Wold said he's been in close contact not only with Kenney, but other leaders, including Pittsburgh Mayor Mark Peduto and Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse, and that contact will continue.

"To make sure that everyone is able to make their voices heard, while we are keeping everyone safe," he pleaded, "I urge everyone in these demonstrations to be peaceful. I urge everyone to have respect for the communities and our neighbors. I urge all of us to continue to call out injustice. We should be doing that."

Wolf also offered his condolences to every victim of oppression, racism, and violence.

"Every day in every corner of our society, we need to work constantly to eliminate racism," he said. "We need to ask ourselves how we can do that. This means we need to do our part to address it, from the smallest through to the biggest action, here in Pennsylvania and everywhere."

Philadelphians pitch in

As Kenney remarked, many Philadelphians woke up Sunday morning ready to help. 

Facebook groups and people's natural call to action made parts of the city feel the spirit of brotherly love again, even in the early hours. They spent the morning cleaning glass, embers, and various store items strewn about.

For Lisa Glover, who lives off John F. Kennedy Boulevard, it was devastating to see the day turn to chaos.

"You don't fight hate with hate," she said. "And we felt as soon as we could wake up this morning when the ban was lifted, we'd come out and start banding together and helping this city start the process of rebuilding."

People helping to clean up in the City Hall area Sunday morning.
Charlotte Reese/KYW Newsradio

Glover wasn't alone.

Mary Strain brought her two sons to help. She said she understood the message but not the destruction.

"We really support Black Lives Matter, we support the protestors and we support our city," she said. "So we just want to do everything we can to be proactive in keeping the peace and cleaning up and being part of the solution."

Glover hoped the cleanup efforts could send a different message about the city.

"I think it shows how strong Philadelphia is," she expressed. "The hate and violence that happened last night will not outpower the love and strength we have for our city."

Strain echoed that statement. "I think it's just really important to show not only the city but the world that we're still united people despite the attempts to divide us and that we can fight for justice and do that together," she said.

Philadelphia's Department of Public Property worked to clean the graffiti from the City Hall area and the Frank Rizzo statue in front of the Municipal Services Building.

Kenney said the statue was not prioritized, and talked about existing plans to move it. He had originally wanted to save a couple hundred thousand dollars by making the removal part of a larger construction project. Instead, plans now call for the statue to be removed within the coming month.

"I never liked that statue," he shared in a moment of candor. "I can't wait to see it go away."

Small businesses feel effects

Many business owners in Philadelphia are picking up the pieces, following the destruction to their properties following the riots.

Leon Scott kept a close eye on this weekend's protests and riots in Philadelphia from the safety of his home, but that did not keep him from feeling the firsthand affects of the vandalism.

"When I saw what was going on," he said, "I looked at my cloud cam, and just happened to see a few people entering my store."

Scott, the owner of Silver Legends Jewelry in Center City, said he has not even begun to calculate just how much damage was done to his store.

"Some merchandise taken, my cash register was taken, windows were broken, and my door was kicked in," he detailed. "I was irate. It was pretty much unimaginable for me. I was just taken completely off guard."

The Silver Legends jewelry store was broken into during Saturday's riots, leaving owner Leon Scott to pick up the pieces.
Justin Udo/KYW Newsradio

Scott said he spent Saturday night and Sunday morning boarding up his business, and cleaning up the rubble. He even got some help from neighboring business owners who had their properties breached.

"I'm certainly not happy about what happened to my business and other businesses in the city and around the country, but you can almost feel, it's almost palpable how angry everybody is, and frustrated," he said. "This is just how some people are taking that frustration out."

Because of the pandemic, Scott said they've been doing business online. He'll continue to do that until he's allowed to reopen and his shop is repaired.

Vandals broke the front gate and windows of Eye Candy Optical in Center City, according to owner Tim Sagges, who said that was just the beginning.

"(They) then proceeded to go inside and just ransacked the whole place," he said. "They stole all of the frames, or very many of them, and anything that was glass was smashed."

Sagges says his business had been closed for some time because of the pandemic. Now its doors will remain shut even longer. He said between the destruction and lost inventory, he is looking at a approximately $50,000 in damages.

As Sagges works to clean up his shop, he said he's still in a state of disbelief.

"I understand why people are angry and upset," he sympathized. "I just wish maybe they could take their anger and their violence to the doorstep of people who it needs to be taken to, instead of small businesses that are in their own neighborhoods."

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KYW Newsradio's Charlotte Reese, Justin Udo, Alex Silverman, Bryan Ramona, Lynne Adkins, Mike DeNardo, Cherri Gregg, Pat Loeb, Andrew Kramer and Andre Bennett contributed to this report.

This is a developing story. Stay with KYW Newsradio for more info.