Hundreds marched through Philadelphia streets and gathered at City Hall and in front of the Art Museum on Wednesday, raising their voices in another day of sustained, nonviolent protest against police brutality.
As passionate demonstrations spurred by the death of George Floyd, the black man killed after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck, continued across the country, marchers in Philadelphia said they hoped the continuing protests would garner lasting momentum for the fight against systemic racism.
“The protests that happened before this kind of died out, but the rage still stayed inside everyone,” said Jasmine Harvey, 27, referring to demonstrations that followed the deaths of other black people in police custody in recent years. “This time, we’re trying to become a unit, and use our voices and the white voices as our allies.”
The city’s fifth day of protests spurred by Floyd’s killing dawned with the sudden, quiet removal of the statue of former conservative Mayor Frank Rizzo, who was known for his aggression in policing the black and gay communities of Philadelphia. After a torrential storm swept through the region at midday, protesters filled the streets, walking for hours in sweltering heat.
In Minneapolis, prosecutors upgraded the charges against the police officer accused of kneeling on Floyd’s neck to second-degree murder — news that Philadelphia protesters cheered when it was announced by megaphone on North Broad Street. Prosecutors also charged three other officers with abetting murder.
As protests continued from New York City to Los Angeles, former President Barack Obama urged mayors nationwide to review their use-of-force policies as he spoke at a Zoom panel on police reform Wednesday afternoon. He also praised protesters and encouraged them to look to the next step.
“At some point, protests start to dwindle in size,” Obama said in a 10-minute address. “And it’s very important for us to take the momentum that has been created as a society, as a country, and say, ‘Let’s use this to finally have an impact.'”
As the day’s protests got going, Mayor Jim Kenney said that Philadelphia wasn’t ready for the National Guard to leave the city and that residents should expect their increased presence in neighborhoods.
“I want us to be where we don’t need additional support, but let me be clear: We are not there yet,” Kenney said at an afternoon news conference. It was a reversal from the morning, when he said he hoped the Guard would leave and that the city didn’t need them.
The Philadelphia Police Department has reported 716 arrests, the majority of them for offenses such as curfew violations and failing to disperse, since Saturday. At least 25 police officers have been injured, and at least one remains hospitalized, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said Wednesday afternoon.
Large groups of police watched protesters as they moved through the city, but unlike the first three days of demonstrations, Wednesday was not marked by clashes between the groups.
“I think that the protests over the last week — and, hopefully, we’re winding down — have shown us the anger and the distress of people of color in this country,” Kenney told reporters in the morning.
Waving signs, chanting George Floyd’s name, and reminding each other to take water breaks, protesters moved down Broad Street, rallied in front of City Hall, marched along Spring Garden Street, and demonstrated in front of Philadelphia Police Headquarters.
Hundreds lay in the middle of North Broad Street for nine minutes, the amount of time the police officer kept his knee pressed down on Floyd’s neck, as a man with a megaphone read Floyd’s last words. When the crowd reached the Art Museum, they raised their fists for another nine minutes of silence.
The afternoon’s protest was organized by Sam Barton, 22, from Northeast Philadelphia, who isn’t affiliated with an organization, other than “a group of black kids tired of seeing black kids die,” he said.
Barton said he was glad to see changes Wednesday, including the city taking down the Rizzo statue and Outlaw saying she’d kneel with protesters. But he said those steps are far from enough and, like others, he was looking toward the future.
“It’s not a one-day thing, it’s not a one-week thing, it’s not a one-month thing,” Barton said. “We need much bigger things. ... We need actual laws to make cops be actually afraid of killing black people for no reason.”
Speaking from the Art Museum steps to the hundreds gathered below, Christopher Bowman, 27, of Mount Airy, said he was fighting for the younger generation as previous civil rights activists had fought for him. He urged white Philadelphians to speak up for their black neighbors.
“Your silence is just as bad as being against us, because you have the opportunity to change with us,” he said. “We’ll go with love and we’ll come with love. Hear us and understand our plight. Our goal is not to harm anyone — it’s to be heard and loved and understood.”
After the crowd at the Art Museum dispersed, some took the demonstration to City Hall, and then marched to Temple University as the city’s 6 p.m. curfew neared and passed. The march ended peacefully around 7 p.m.
A few hundred people also gathered in Fishtown in the early evening. Facing the police station, the crowd shouted, “Kneel with us!” They questioned why a group of armed men who said they were protecting the police were allowed by police to remain in the neighborhood on Monday after the citywide curfew and in spite of reports that they assaulted at least two people, including a reporter.
Some called for the resignation of the district’s captain. Officers told the crowd they are investigating the reports of assault from that night, but offered no apologies.
Tito Cobb, a 45-year-old black man, and his family marched with protesters to the Art Museum from North Philadelphia, where they live. He said his seven children have questions about what’s going on in the country. Tuesday was their first day of protesting.
“For so long, Americans haven’t heard our voices. They haven’t heard our anguish," he said. “We just want our voices to be heard.”
Staff writers Aubrey Whelan, Ellie Rushing, Allison Steele, Rob Tornoe, Oona Goodin-Smith, Jason Laughlin contributed to this article, along with Cynthia Fernandez of Spotlight PA.