Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

In Philadelphia on Thursday, protesters demand police reforms as elected officials say they’re listening

The sixth day of pressure and protest brought the most concrete responses yet from the mayor, governor, police commissioner, and others — including some pledges for change. “We only have one message, and that’s police reform,” said protest organizer Sixx King.

Protesters in Center City Philadelphia on Thursday.
Protesters in Center City Philadelphia on Thursday.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

On the sixth day of protests against police brutality and racial injustice in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, Philadelphia marchers demanded a set of police reforms, and state and local officials offered their most concrete responses yet to the demonstrations.

Mayor Jim Kenney said the city had heard their “cries of anguish” and vowed “to do better," while Gov. Tom Wolf said he would push for legislative police reform and establish a commission to investigate alleged misconduct by the Pennsylvania State Police and other law enforcement agencies under his purview.

In many cities across the country, Thursday was the 10th day of protest, grief, and fury over the death of Floyd, who was killed after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. As demonstrators nationwide called for criminal justice reform, a memorial for Floyd took place in Minneapolis. In Philadelphia, protesters presented their most unified front yet as they marched from the Art Museum to Independence Mall and back again on another hot day.

“We only have one message, and that’s police reform,” said organizer Sixx King, speaking through a megaphone in front of Independence Hall late Thursday afternoon. “And we want it immediately, and we want it from the mayor.”

Saying the voices of the thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets every day since Saturday had “led us to this point,” Kenney announced he would form a steering committee to help the city move toward reconciliation with residents. And Thursday evening, he and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw announced they were taking a pledge to address police use-of-force policies in Philadelphia.

“I am committed to driving this movement for change forward,” Outlaw said in a video posted to Twitter.

» READ MORE: Live updates from Thursday, June 4, marking a sixth day of protests in Philly

The protesters asked the city to implement mental evaluations, social media monitoring, and always-on body cameras for all police officers. They demanded that police lawsuit settlements be funded by the police pension fund rather than taxpayer dollars, that police accused of misconduct be investigated by an outside agency, and that officers with complaints filed against them be permanently banned from policing in any jurisdiction.

“These are simple things that they could do that they could put in order,” King said, later adding, “We will not rest until we get equality.”

Criticism came not only from the demonstrators.

Activists and defense lawyers gathered in front of Police Headquarters earlier Thursday to condemn the Police Department’s response to the week’s protests, describing it as unnecessarily violent and violating demonstrators’ rights. And an interfaith coalition of Philadelphia’s clergy at the statue of Octavius Catto near City Hall criticized the department and called for police accountability.

After the use of tear gas and pepper spray on protesters on Monday, Outlaw defended it as a “last resort” and said there would be a standard internal investigation; she also said she would not "allow the actions of some individuals within this organization to undermine the efforts that we are trying to make as an organization moving forward during this time. ... I don’t need distractions internally to take away from what we’re trying to accomplish as well.”

City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart announced Thursday she would launch an independent review of the city’s response to the week’s civil unrest.

Other promises spurred by the protests came in from across the city and state.

Wolf said he wanted every municipality in the state to establish citizen police advisory boards and said he would appoint a deputy inspector general responsible for police matters, including alleged abuse. Among several steps, he directed law enforcement agencies throughout the state to review use-of-force training standards and address implicit bias.

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke also said he will unveil a plan Friday with legislative and budgetary commitments, which he also described as “a down payment, so to speak, on what we will be doing” to address racial inequity in Philadelphia. At a virtual meeting, City Council members called for investment in the city’s black neighborhoods in response to the ongoing unrest in the city and took a knee in Floyd’s memory.

Outlaw joined other law enforcement leaders, including Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, to call for state legislation to reform the police-hiring process so that records of misconduct or excessive use of force follow cops when they leave a police agency.

“Millions are peacefully demanding change in our country and we need to show them we’re listening. This is a down payment on the kinds of reforms we need to deliver,” Shapiro said in a statement.

» READ MORE: Philly Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw to cops: Don’t block your badge numbers

The mayor’s steering committee will be made up of a “large and diverse” group of residents and community leaders of color and will be helmed by Deputy Mayor for Children and Families Cynthia Figueroa and City Solicitor Marcel Pratt.

Figueroa said the group will choose its areas of focus “based on what the community tells us is most critical," and does not yet have a set timeline.

“We will hold the administration accountable for what they said they would do,” said Sarah-Ashley Andrews, founder and CEO of Dare2Hope and a member of the new committee. “We are looking forward to moving this city in the right direction.”

Kenney also said he would likely tweak his budget proposal to City Council, which currently includes a $14 million increase to the Police Department budget while reducing funding to other city services.

After days of separate protests criss-crossing the city, Thursday’s effort was one of the most unified. As more than a thousand protesters filed down Market Street, they chanted, “The people united will not be divided.”

One speaker, Lee Scott Lorde, said the reform needs to go well beyond the Police Department and reach all the white people at City Hall “that think they’re liberal.”

“We need to declare racism as a public health crisis,” she said.

Protests also rippled across the Philadelphia suburbs, including a five-mile march down Lancaster Avenue.

And hundreds marched down Broad Street to the School District headquarters in a separate city demonstration held by the Philadelphia principals’ union to denounce racism. “If black lives matter, then black schools matter,” State Rep. Malcom Kenyatta (D., Philadelphia) told the crowd.

» READ MORE: Superintendent: ‘No justice, no peace,’ as Philly educators march against racism

Thursday’s marches, like those the two previous days, were peaceful. On Thursday afternoon, Outlaw said 755 people had been arrested since Saturday, 492 of which were code violations for curfew. Police presence was lighter Thursday, with officers surveying the afternoon’s march but absent from the street corners they had occupied en masse earlier in the week. Some protesters returned to City Hall in the evening to face officers and National Guard members who stood behind a barricade, but police did not immediately enforce the 8 p.m. curfew. The protesters dispersed before 9 p.m.

Kenney also credited the National Guard for helping keep the peace, which he said has freed up police officers to be out in the community doing their job.

“We were outnumbered on Saturday night and Sunday. We’ve got the Guard in, and I will give them credit — they’ve kind of stabilized some things,” Kenney said.

Walking along Germantown Avenue with Outlaw, Kenney said the protesters had a right to continue demonstrating as long as they wanted.

“This has been a long time coming,” Kenney said. “I understand why people explode.”

Contributing to this article were staff writers Ellie Rushing, Maddie Hanna, Chris Palmer, Allison Steele, Rob Tornoe, Sean Collins Walsh, and Anthony R. Wood, and the Spotlight PA staff.