Witnesses say 52nd Street looters looked more coordinated than chaotic

Cherri Gregg
June 02, 2020 - 9:47 am
Men standing in front of MN Wireless on 52nd Street

Cherri Gregg/KYW Newsradio

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52nd Street riot flier
Various sources
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The 52nd Street commercial corridor in West Philadelphia suffered major damage during the riots and looting over the weekend. Sources say the looting was advertised on social media.

The Instagram flier read: "We doing a 52nd st riot. Footlocker we in there! @ 3 o’clock. 5/31/2020" 

Related: Massive protests, some looting rage on for a third day in Philadelphia

And by 4 p.m. that day, mayhem with hundreds of people gathered near 52nd and Chestnut streets, stealing shoes and apparel from — guess where — Footlocker. A nearby McDonald’s was also vandalized.

“All you gotta do is search Instagram and you will see the kids talking about what they are doing,” said Akayla Brown, 17. “They are talking to each other on social media. Some people are even posting about the stuff they steal."

Brown says social media comments and posts, as well as chats among friends, reveal the outrage among youth over the death of Black people by police. She says it’s festered for a long time.

“I was waiting to see what was that trigger that would begin the rioting and the looting,” she said. "People are angry. People are really, really angry."

When George Floyd died after an arrest that ended with an officer kneeling on his neck, Brown says the chatter online began. With many young people deciding to protest, others choosing to protest and loot, and still others taking advantage of the chaos. But their united goal: Make big corporations and government feel the pain.

“People are using this as a excuse to steal,” said Andre, a West Philadelphia resident who declined to share his last name. He, like many other residents, believes the looters were working together, had a plan of how to do it, and even had a makeshift code.

“No Black-owned businesses got touched,” he says.

Black business owners marked their shops on 52nd Street and 60th Street or posted signs that read “Black Lives Matter.” 

For the most part, it helped. Although, some businesses close to the targeted stores did suffer damage.

Those who didn’t mark their businesses as Black-owned suffered pain similar to the stores targeted in neighborhoods, including pharmacies like Rite Aid; electronics, beauty supply, shoe and apparel stores; dollar stores; big box stores and chains; grocery stores; and other businesses viewed as owned by larger corporations.

“They was working as a team,” said Christine, who lives on 52nd Street. She too declined to give her last name, but she says when looters showed up Sunday night to break into her home, she confronted them and they politely redirected their crimes to the business next door.

"They said, 'I’m sorry. I apologize,'" she said. "They just wanted to get what they wanted, to get and go."

She said it looked like there were working together. 

"Someone took control of the traffic. Someone took control of looking out. I’ve never seen so much unity," she said. "I mean, unity in the destruction of things."

When they left Christine’s home, the looters broke into the check-cashing and convenience store next door. The store owner declined to be recorded, but he said looters broke into his ATM and stole $6,000. He says they also cleaned out his cash register, trashed the place and took hookah items and other products.

“Looters came like 2:30 in the morning, and they took almost everything,” said Masum Siddique, who has owned MN Wireless on 52nd Street for 20 years.

“I watched it all on camera while I was at home.”

Siddique says 100 looters busted his window and used a van to steal cell phones and electronics.

“I don’t know how I’m going to run my business again,” he said. "This is a very tragic situation.”

He’s not sure if he’ll re-open.

Many say the young looters are not alone. Witnesses say they’ve gotten help from white individuals from outside of the neighborhood.

“I saw a white male, with a beige shirt and dark pants, place a incendiary device in front of the Family Bargain story on 52nd and Sansom streets," said Pamela Williams, a pastor. “Later I discovered the store had a blaze. And I saw it with my own eyes.”

Williams says she reported the incident to police.

“He was an agitator who was there to incite a riot,” she said. "He was not part of the individuals who were there protesting. And I saw what he did with my own eyes. And I am mad as hell.”

When Brown heard about the looting of the stores, and how it happened, she said, “I’m not surprised.”

She said she believes the looting and mayhem by young people will continue. They want their voices heard and won’t stop until someone listens.