Thousands are expected to turn out at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Saturday in what will likely be the city’s largest demonstration yet against police brutality and racial injustice after the death of George Floyd.
Despite Friday’s rain, which postponed a planned demonstration at John F. Kennedy Plaza and brought hundreds rather than thousands into the streets, protesters traversed the city for a seventh day. Groups marched in Mount Airy, along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, through South Philadelphia, and to Independence Mall.
“The people benefiting from white supremacy are terrified,” Jordan Holbert, 28, told a crowd of about 250 on the steps of the Art Museum. “We have to come out here day in and day out, and we have to continue to protest.”
Major protests are planned for the weekend across the United States, including one in Washington expected to be the biggest march in the nation’s capital since Floyd’s death. In dozens of cities, protests over his death in Minneapolis after a police officer knelt on his neck have lasted for days.
Saturday marks the second weekend of mass protests in Philadelphia. The demonstration at the Art Museum, which begins at noon, is expected to draw a significantly larger crowd than the 3,000 who gathered there last Saturday, said Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw.
Major street closures will be in place Saturday, the city said, including I-676 in both directions starting at 11 a.m. and the Parkway at 5 a.m.
“I am hoping, with the peaceful activity and peaceful protest that we’ve been seeing, we really have the ability to allow those peaceful demonstrators to march, and we are there solely to facilitate,” Outlaw said. “But I am far more confident in the resources we have this week than we did last week.”
Since Tuesday, the city has been largely peaceful, as major marches have occurred each day. But the city erupted with anger and grief after organized nonviolent protests last Saturday, with clashes between police and protesters that intensified over the city’s first three days of protests and resulted in hundreds of arrests.
Outlaw has launched several Internal Affairs investigations into use of force by police officers during protests this week, she said Friday, some in response to videos on social media. That included one high-ranking officer who was removed from the street, officials said Friday, after a video circulated of him beating a Temple University student with a baton on Monday.
“Some of the images are disturbing and depict behavior that does not appear to be in accord with our policy,” she said.
On Friday, a group of protesters undeterred by rain moved from City Hall to the Art Museum and back, cheering even when a brief downpour drenched them. As they marched, residents in high-rise buildings banged pots and pans out open windows. Other groups roamed from the museum to Broad Street and the Italian Market.
Early Friday afternoon, thousands of doctors and nurses from hospitals around the region filed onto Franklin Field at the University of Pennsylvania, where they knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the amount of time the police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck.
At City Hall, about 200 Muslims gathered for a prayer service to honor Floyd. Hundreds marched peacefully through Mount Airy. And demonstrators assembled at Police Headquarters to kick off the fourth annual Stop Killing Us march, during which founder Jamal Johnson will make a three-week walk to Washington.
Mayor Jim Kenney vowed that his administration will “deconstruct this broken system” and confront systemic racism in Philadelphia, repeating his Thursday pledges that he would take action, including forming a steering committee on the issue.
“To our black communities here at home and around the country, we hear you, we are listening to you, and we feel the pain you share with us,” said Kenney. “We recognize the long history of institutional racism that has brought us to this moment. It is the reason peaceful protesters take to the street, and we stand with them 100%.”
Wearing an orange tie in honor of Gun Violence Awareness Day, Kenney said he will also continue working against gun violence in the city. Nearly 170 people have died from violence in Philadelphia so far this year, he said.
Police reported four protest-related arrests in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of people arrested since Saturday to 759. Protesters were “almost entirely peaceful" Thursday, Outlaw said at a Friday briefing, and the number of reported burglaries has decreased each day this week.
She said the National Guard would remain in the city “as long as we need them.”
She also said police were looking for three men who they believe broke into a Northeast Philadelphia business Thursday morning and stole oxygen and acetylene tanks that could be “extremely dangerous.” The Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police lodge offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to their arrest.
“If intended to be used in the way that we think, that completely goes counter against the peaceful demonstrations that are planned for tomorrow,” Outlaw said.
City Council members on Friday unveiled a plan to spend $25 million to address racial inequalities in housing, food security, policing, and other issues. Though he did not provide specifics on spending, Council President Darrell L. Clarke said the legislation will help create a “new normal” once the pandemic and civic unrest subside and address underlying inequalities that have been highlighted by the crises.
“People are hurting. What you’re seeing in the streets reflects an unemployment rate” for African Americans that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, Clarke said at a news conference outside City Hall. “You wonder why people are acting in a very desperate manner? Because these are desperate times for them. And guess what. This is not new for them.”
Many protesters and signs on Friday honored Breonna Taylor, the black woman who was shot and killed by police officers in Louisville, Ky., in March. No charges have been filed against any officers. Friday would have been her 27th birthday.
Protesters walked in the suburbs, too. In Montgomery County, one school district said it would take action over comments posted to Facebook by a teacher that the superintendent deemed racist and “deplorable." In Delaware County, outrage spread over a police officer who on Facebook appeared to threaten business owners who have spoken out against cops, and then apologized.
As protesters marched from the Art Museum, they came face to face with Philadelphia police and National Guardsmen, who stood stoically in several lines behind metal barricades on the south side of City Hall.
“This is not America! I know you guys know this,” one protester told them before the group moved south on Broad.
When the group of about 150 got to the Italian Market, there was condemnation of the mural of former Mayor Frank L. Rizzo, which the property owner said would be removed about 1 a.m. Sunday.
And at Independence Hall, protester Jomo Atkins, 48, urged the group to persevere.
“It will not happen overnight. One man will not make it happen. One race will not make it happen,” said Atkins. “Do not waste this moment.”