On Tuesday night, Ed Morales stood outside Z Furniture Designs in Philadelphia’s Port Richmond neighborhood, and watched as scores of people carried stolen merchandise out of nearby stores from the Aramingo Avenue shopping complex.
Morales, the manager at Z Furniture, had arrived with the store’s owner at about 8:30 p.m. to find the shop’s windows broken and cash register and computers gone.
The furniture was mostly safe, he said — too heavy to carry out. Morales, who’s been with the company for seven years, stood outside into the early hours of the morning, asking people to leave the shop alone.
“People would attempt to come and break into the store, and we’d tell them, ‘No, no, no,’ and they’d just keep going,” he said.
Morales described the scene in the shopping center as unlike anything he had ever seen there, with people loading cars with goods from a Ross Dress for Less store and others before speeding off.
The vandalism that flared in Port Richmond Tuesday night didn’t stem from a protest, but unfolded as a second night of demonstrations took place miles away over the police’s killing of Walter Wallace Jr. 27, in Cobbs Creek. City officials, business leaders, and Wallace’s family quickly condemned the break-ins and thefts.
On Tuesday, the shooting victim’s father, Walter Wallace Sr., denounced the looting.
"They’re not helping me or my family. They’re showing disrespect,” the father said. “Stop this violence and chaos. People have businesses. We all got to eat.”
Eighty-one people were arrested on Tuesday night, police said, 53 of them for burglary. Of the arrests, 22 were made in the Police East Division, where the Aramingo Avenue shopping complex is located.
The arrests Tuesday followed Monday’s larger tally — 172 arrests of suspects for felony and misdemeanor offenses on that first night and early morning. Police said that 52 officers had sustained minor injuries and one remained hospitalized with a broken leg after being struck by a truck. The driver has been charged with a dozen offenses, authorities said.
Mayor Jim Kenney said Wednesday that he had requested help from the Pennsylvania National Guard to “safeguard property and prevent looting.” He said he expected the troops to arrive Friday.
“The looting that has taken place in several neighborhoods in Philadelphia is distressing, to say the least, and it is unacceptable,” Kenney said.
The damage cast an additional chill on a city economy struggling to endure the COVID-19 pandemic in a city in which some businesses were hard hit by unrest after the police slaying of George Floyd in Minnesota.
“It’s terrible for the business climate. It happened once. Now it’s happened twice and in this case it’s far less clear than the George Floyd situation,” said David Oh, a councilman-at-large. “Right or wrong, some business owners believe the city is not going to protect them. So do they close their business and leave?"
Steven Scott Bradley, chairman of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, said the stricken neighborhoods were hurting in the wake of the vandalism.
“There’s nothing we’re very proud of. We’re disappointed that our businesses are being negatively impacted. They’re being looted and not able to provide goods and services to the community,” Bradley said. “For our members, family, and friends that use the community pharmacies and retail stores, it has created hardship."
A curfew of 9 p.m. was put into effect Wednesday, and the city said grocery stores, restaurants, and pharmacies should remain open only for delivery services after the curfew.
Both presidential candidates also decried looting in the city. Former Vice President Joe Biden said that “to be able to protest is totally legitimate, totally reasonable. But there’s no excuse for the looting.” President Donald Trump condemned unrest in Philadelphia but failed to name Wallace, address his family, or acknowledge his death.
On Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Tom Wolf signed an emergency declaration to allow state agencies to provide more support for Philadelphia.
Though Aramingo and Castor Avenues was a hot spot, some damage occurred elsewhere, including in parts of Center City, North Philadelphia, and West Philadelphia. City officials could not provide a count of how many businesses had been affected, although they believed about 200 had been broken into.
“It’s hard to tell because a lot of businesses are also preventatively boarding up," said Sylvie Gallier Howard, the city’s acting commerce director. “We’re tallying all the reports that we’re getting.”
Nine ATMs around the city were also blown up, including one inside a Wawa on Castor Avenue. None of the attempts to extract cash were successful, and no one was injured.
Corie Moskow, the executive director of Rittenhouse Row, the business association near Rittenhouse Square, said that some businesses in the neighborhood were damaged but that it was “nothing compared to May 30,” the peak day of the Floyd-related unrest.
In Center City at least, police managed to deter extensive damage.
“The commercial corridors hit on May 30 have extra protection now from the police," Moskow said. " I’m grateful for the city addressing on the second round what could have been done for the first."
Morales said he understands the anger around Wallace’s death, but, having grown up nearby in Kensington, he worried about community members who rely on stores on the avenue, like Walmart, dollar stores, and pharmacies, and about employees there who will lose days of work.
He added he would have liked to have seen more police at the Aramingo Avenue shops on Wednesday.
Police acknowledged on Wednesday that they had not expected break-ins and vandalism on Aramingo Avenue, and that it took time to marshal officers to the scene.
“We gathered resources and got a necessary amount of officers to that location; by that time, several stores have been looted and damage was done," said Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw.