Recap: Philly could ban police kneeholds and chokeholds; Columbus statue in Camden is pulled down, but gets caught in new controversy
Police kneeholds and chokeholds would be banned in Philadelphia and newly recruited officers would be required to live in the city under legislation introduced Thursday, as City Council responded to demonstrators’ calls for reform after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Council members also introduced legislation that would create a new police oversight commission and require public hearings before the city approves police union contracts. Together, the bills represented Council’s first concrete steps toward changing policing in Philadelphia after days of protests. Mayor Jim Kenney released his own reform agenda Tuesday.
Camden city workers took down a statue of Christopher Columbus at Farnham Park, but residents who support its removal have taken possession of its pieces in an ongoing protest.
The Rev. Levi Coombs III, a leading proponent of getting rid of the statue and pastor of the nearby First Refuge Progressive Baptist Church, said he and about 30 other residents were guarding what remains of the statue at the park.
Coombs said residents had called for the statue’s removal for 40 years but were ignored until this week when it became a national issue as other statues of Columbus have been removed as part of the ongoing protests against racism.
Philadelphia Art Museum leaders apologize for word choices in Black Lives Matter message
In the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests, which have occasionally converged on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the museum’s leaders sent a email to staff to acknowledge the importance of the unfolding events.
“At this historic moment of anger and protest … it is vitally important to reaffirm that every individual life matters," director Timothy Rub and president Gail Harrity wrote as part of a May 31 email to the institution’s nearly 500 employees.
The blowback was swift. Staff members were upset by the email’s language and said so.
Youth rap group lifts spirits during South Philly demonstration for lives lost to racism and police brutality
Jumping up and down, holding their fists up high, the Young Flames, a South Philadelphia youth rap group, uplifted the spirits of a hundred people in Wharton Square Park Thursday evening who gathered to pay tribute to the lives lost to police brutality and racism.
The “Kneel for Justice” demonstration, organized by the Young Flames, which consists of 10 boys ages 8 to 12, brought family, friends, politicians, and neighbors together to advocate for justice for George Floyd, the Minneapolis black man who died in police custody on Memorial Day.
“They wanted to take a stand, use their platform and not stay silent,” said Christopher Giddens, the Young Flames’ manager.
The Young Flames recite a poetic statement to finish out the 8 minutes and 46 second tribute to George Floyd. “Home of the brave, yet we still ain’t free. The promises you make are still not for America’s black population.” pic.twitter.com/TEjMT6MOWI
The Young Flames kicked off the evening with a performance of their song “Guns Down,” which addresses their experiences facing gun violence in the city and advocates for positivity. The crowd lit up, singing and dancing along as each member sang a verse.
C & C creamery handed out free water ice, and Senator Anthony Williams and Councilman Kenyatta Johnson spoke to the group. Then, everyone knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time the police officer put his knee on Floyd’s neck, suffocating him.
“If your knee is hurtin’, imagine that brother’s neck,” one woman yelled out in tears.
They shouted the names of people killed at the hands of police brutality and racism throughout history. Then, the Young Flames performed their second song, “Young Kings.”
“This was more than what I expected,” said Natasha Crawford, whose son Amir is a member of the group. “This was so heartwarming.”
“They like to use their voice,” said Crawford, owner of Top Dawg Groomers. “They want to be heard. They’re kids but they see things, they hear things, and they experience these issues.”
Bahij Goodwin, 11, said the evening, which was the largest group they’ve sang to before, was fun and exciting. “Quarantine got us away from each other,” he said of the group. “But now we get to be outside and come back together for this.”
The Young Flames also helped lead Saturday’s march down Broad Street. They have a new song addressing police brutality coming out soon and it will be played at the NAACP’s Juneteenth event in Reading, Pa. on June 19.
Columbus statue in Camden taken down, but pieces being held in protest by residents
City workers on Thursday afternoon took down a statue of Christopher Columbus at Farnham Park in Camden, but residents who support its removal have taken possession of its pieces in an ongoing protest.
Video shot from the Fox29 helicopter showed workers with parts of the statue loaded onto a flatbed trailer behind a large city truck. There was a small crowd of people gathered including one person who appeared to be speaking through a bullhorn.
The Rev. Levi Coombs III, a leading proponent of getting rid of the statue and pastor of the nearby First Refuge Progressive Baptist Church, said he and about 30 other residents were guarding what remains of the statue at the park.
Coombs said residents had called for the statue’s removal for 40 years but were ignored until this week, when it became a national issue as other statues of Columbus have been removed as part of the ongoing protests against racism.
Coombs said he had been assured by county officials that the statue would remain until Saturday when he planned to lead a march through the city to the statue. He said he found out Thursday afternoon that the city had suddenly taken steps to remove it without telling him or other residents. He blamed the situation on Camden Mayor Frank Moran.
Moran could not be reached for comment, but city spokesperson Vincent Basura said in an interview earlier Thursday night that the city decided to finally take the statue down because “it’s the right thing to do.”
Basura said he was aware from TV reports that residents had appeared at the park to block workers from taking the statue away.
What remains of the statue eventually will be put into storage, Basura said.
Coombs said the city’s workers had left the park and the residents would guard the statue’s pieces until Saturday.
The statue is inscribed with the year 1915, which is believed to be when it was dedicated, Basura said.
The city of Camden late Thursday afternoon issued a statement that read in part: “Previously there have been requests to remove the statue as the community no longer supports the monument. It is long overdue, but we must now establish a plan to reexamine these outdated symbols of racial division and injustices.”
Dozens gather to ‘kneel for justice’ at South Philly park
Dozens of people have gathered at Wharton Square Park for “Kneel for Justice,” a protest organized by the Young Flames, a youth rap group with 10 boys ages 8 to 12 who sing about gun violence, police brutality, and Black empowerment. Drummers from Eastwick start off the evening. pic.twitter.com/U1HNvzmLBK
Cory Booker plays central role in police reform: ‘I owe a debt.’
WASHINGTON — Sen. Cory Booker’s jaw tensed, the muscles in his face visibly flexing at a news conference Monday introducing a police reform bill that could pass the U.S. House this month.
“We in America are one precious same nation, but we have a wildly different set of experiences with the police, where black Americans live in fear of police interactions,” Booker began.
For Booker, a New Jersey Democrat and former presidential candidate, the police killing of George Floyd and ensuing public outcry have created an opening for massive change on the kind of civil rights issue that has driven his Senate career, and shaped his childhood.
It’s also a head-snapping turn. Booker, the son of civil rights activists, built his presidential run on addressing issues of racial inequality and healing divides, but he gained little traction and dropped out in January.
Now, those same issues are at the center of the national debate, and Booker is at the front of Democrats’ push for police reform.
“This is very personal to me because of my own life experiences, and that of so many people that I know,” Booker said in an interview.
‘We’re all here to stand together for what’s right’
Thursday was Rebekah Lawson’s second time protesting. She first joined the chorus on Philadelphia’s streets calling for an end to police brutality on Sunday. On Thursday, despite the wet forecast, she joined the demonstrations once again.
“I always tend to hold myself back, and I think a lot of people also do because they’re scared of what can happen, but I have to have the mentality that I’m fighting for my life,” Lawson, of Philadelphia, said. “It also sucks because it’s in the middle of a global pandemic, but I just think it’s worth the risk, especially being an African-American woman. It’s just really important.”
In all, about 40 protesters turned out Thursday for the march that began in a downpour and ended in sunshine, walking from Center City to Temple University and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“It means enough is enough,” said Daniel Walker of Chester, surveying the crowd at the Museum of Art. “You can see it by all the different sizes, faces, races, religions, we’re all here to stand together for what’s right and against what’s wrong.”
Walker said that next, he’d like to see police forces in the area acknowledge any wrongdoing.
“You can’t fix what’s been done until you acknowledge what’s wrong,” he said.
Marching down JFK between City Hall and the Municipal Services Building, an area which was occupied by police and the National Guard earlier this week. pic.twitter.com/3A2HlGYRon
The group marched from Logan Circle to City Hall, sitting in the intersection of 15th and JFK Blvd. while chanting “Black Lives Matter” and repeating Floyd’s name as the rain dissipated. The protest briefly stalled traffic before police diverted the vehicles around the demonstration.
The group has grown to around 40 protesters and is now marching down Broad Street on the way to Temple University.
Thursday marked the 13th-straight day of demonstrations in Philadelphia.
Krasner: More than 1,000 misdemeanor and felony arrests since unrest began in Philly
Just more than a thousand people were arrested for misdemeanor and felony offenses over 10 days of civil unrest, at least 399 of them for commercial burglaries, District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a news conference Thursday afternoon. That’s in addition to about a thousand who received civil violation notices for being out during curfew or other minor infractions.
Arrests had also been made for ATM break-ins, and in one case for gun possession in connection with an attempt to disrupt a protest. Krasner declined to share specifics on that case but said, “We have to take a look at what occurred with the self-styled vigilantes in Fishtown. We have to look at incidents in which there may be crimes committed by police officers.”
Krasner said his office is assembling a task force to review the cases being brought — in particular against the 39% of defendants who had no prior arrests. (In the same period last year, just 28% of defendants were in the system for the first time.)
But, he said, "In general we are not seeing any pattern of protesters who engage in peaceful activity being held in custody."
Krasner compared the treatment of the protesters favorably to past periods of unrest.
“If we look for example at the fiasco that was the Republican National in 2000 what we see was police were making every effort big unsustainable, oppressive, excessive charges,” of which he said nearly all resulted in acquittals. Instead, he said, protesters “have been put through a process that is more analogous to a traffic ticket, and that’s positive development.”
Kenney announces initiative to help businesses damaged during protests
Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration announced an initiative Thursday to help businesses that suffered damage or inventory loss during recent civil unrest in Philadelphia.
A $1.4 million grant program will help businesses in historically disadvantaged communities recover, Managing Director Brian Abernathy announced at a virtual news conference Thursday afternoon.
The Philadelphia Commerce Department partnered with the nonprofit group The Merchants Fund to launch the program, which will process applications.
City officials are working to raise additional money to help more businesses, Abernathy said.
The city also announced a $3 million loan fund on Thursday that will help businesses reopen after the COVID-19 shutdown and will be focused on black- and brown owned businesses in low-income areas of the city. Abernathy said details on applications would be announced later this month.
“We hope they can provide a bit of a lifeline for businesses that continue to struggle,” Abernathy said of both programs.
House Republican leader says he supports banning chokeholds
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California broke with some members of his own party Thursday and told reporters he supports a federal ban on police officers from using chokeholds.
During his weekly press briefing, McCarthy said there “should be severe consequences” for officers who use chokeholds, especially on people who have already been handcuffed.
House Republicans plan to put forward their own bill on police reform after Democrats rolled out legislation earlier this week. McCarthy said the bill will focus on performance, transparency, and accountability.
“Bad cops need to be held accountable. Period,” McCarthy said.
The march, escorted by police officers, proceeded from Broad Street and Spring Garden Streets through a light drizzle to the Chamber of Commerce at 200 S. Broad St. The protesters and noisy car caravan took up about two city blocks. Most of the union’s members have been laid off due to the coronavirus.
UNITE HERE members & other protesters are marching down Broad to the Chamber of Commerce’s HQ at Broad and Walnut pic.twitter.com/MM5JS86FCN
“I stand in front of you as a mother of black sons, an auntie, a grandmother, and I’m tired,” Nicole Hunt, the president of UNITE HERE’s school district food worker local, told demonstrators. Hunt said she’s tired of telling her sons “don’t ride four deep in the car” because police officers will think it’s suspicious.
Briheem Douglas, a former cook at the stadiums, said he and others have to deal with racial discrimination on the job everyday. He told a story to the crowd about being arrested on the trip to the deli, and how his mother and aunt were watching when they put him in the police car. He said the officers were more concerned about their own reputation than if he was okay.
“You gonna’ tell your family that we took care of you, right?” Douglas said one officer asked him.
Jose F. Moreno, Lauren Schneiderman
About 60 people took part in a Black Lives Matter caravan and march on Thursday organized by UNITE HERE Philly.
Chester County school board president resigns after joking about George Floyd’s death
The president of a Chester County school board has resigned after facing backlash for a social media post joking about George Floyd’s death.
Karel Minor, president of the Owen J. Roberts School Board, said Wednesday night that an apology was "wholly inadequate," and that he would resign immediately.
In a screenshot that had been circulating online, Minor had responded to a Facebook post with the comment, "She's got her knee on life's neck like it's a minority in Minnesota. That's probably too soon."
Minor, posting on Facebook, said the comment "was stripped of its context as part of a discussion with a friend about white privilege, my disgust for police brutality, and was intended to mean exactly the opposite of the words used." But, "out of context the statement is horrific," he said.
The district's teachers union had called on Minor to resign Wednesday, saying "his shockingly intolerant statement contradicts the foundations of public education and serves only to deepen wounds in our communities."
'I should not have been there’: Top general apologizes for appearing in photo-op with Trump
Army Gen. Mark Milley said Thursday he was wrong to accompany President Donald Trump on a walk through Lafayette Square on June 1 that ended in a photo op at a church after peaceful protesters were forcibly removed from the street. He said his presence “created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”
“I should not have been there,” the Joint Chiefs chairman said in remarks to a National Defense University commencement ceremony.
Here’s the top military official in the U.S., the chairman of the joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, saying it was a mistake for him to be seen walking with POTUS, across Lafayette square, for a photo op in front of a D.C. church. Here he explains why it was a mistake￼. pic.twitter.com/Ew7T5wS6LR
Milley said his presence and the photographs compromised his commitment to a military divorced from politics.
“My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics,” Milley said. “As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it.”
City Council introduces four police reform bills, including banning chokeholds and requiring recruits to live in Philly.
Four bills introduced Thursday in Philadelphia City Council would bring reforms to the police department by requiring new police recruits to live in the city, banning the use of chokeholds, creating a citizen police oversight commission, and requiring public hearings before police contracts are approved.
Some of the bills are consistent with reforms announced this week by Mayor Jim Kenney. Kenney said he would work with City Council to create a new police oversight body that would replace the current Police Advisory Commission. A bill introduced Thursday by Councilmember Curtis Jones Jr. would begin the process of a city charter change required create the new commission, with a ballot question for voters to approve in November.
Council will also consider banning police chokeholds; a bill introduced by Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson Thursday would prohibit “chokeholds, hogtying, placement of body weight on the head, face, neck, chest or back.” Similar bans have gained traction in cities across the country since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis after a police officer knelt on his neck.
Councilmember Cherelle Parker introduced a bill that would require new police officers to live in Philadelphia for at least a year before they are hired, according to a draft of the legislation. Kenney said this week he would push to restore residency requirements for all officers as part of the police contract; the legislation would apply only to new recruits.
Police contracts would be subject to public hearings in City Council before within 30 days before they are approved, under another bill introduced Thursday by Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson. The legislation would require the disclosure of the cost of the contract “and any other terms or conditions set forth therein,” and would allow for public comment on the contract. But it would not grant Council or residents direct say in contract terms.
Protesters in Boston beheaded a Columbus statue, another was vandalized in downtown Miami, and one was dragged into a lake in Richmond, Va.
Philadelphia is home to two Columbus monuments — a statue in Marconi Plaza in South Philadelphia and a 125-foot obelisk at Penn’s Landing. So far, neither have been targeted by demonstrators.
But those aren’t the only Philadelphia memorials dedicated to Columbus. City Council passed an ordinance that took effect in 1992 to rename part of Delaware Avenue south of Spring Garden Street “Columbus Boulevard” to coincide with the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Columbus in the New World. The change has been met by protests from civic groups and Native Americans ever since.
“You have to understand what an insult it is to the Indian people,” George Hines, a Native American, told the Inquirer in 1992. “It would be like telling the Jewish people that you were going to honor Adolf Hitler.”
Signs for Columbus Boulevard have been defaced multiple times over the past 28 years, and many Philadelphians still call the section Delaware Avenue, anyway. But in the wake of protests spotlighting racism and the long, dark history of slavery in America, Billy Penn editor Danya Henninger reignited the discussion over the street’s name in a tweet that was widely shared in Philadelphia Thursday morning.
NASCAR driver says he’s quitting after Confederate flag banned from races
Ray Ciccarelli, a part-time NASCAR driver in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, announced he plans to part ways with the sport over its decision to ban the Confederate flag and allow racers to kneel during the national anthem.
“i don't believe in kneeling during Anthem nor taken ppl right to fly what ever flag they love,” Ciccarelli wrote in a Facebook post that has since been removed. “I could care less about the Confederate Flag but there are ppl that do and it doesn't make them a racist all you are doing is f---ing one group to cater to another and i ain't spend the money we are to participate in any political BS!!”
“The presence of the Confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry,” NASCAR said in a statement on Wednesday. “The display of the Confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.”
Mayor Kenney authorized use of tear gas; protests continue but crowds decreasing
Mayor Jim Kenney and other top city officials authorized the use of tear gas to control the crowds as protests escalated in West Philadelphia on May 31, Managing Director Brian Abernathy said during a City Council budget hearing Wednesday.
That broad authorization came the day after Center City first erupted with violence and looting following a large but peaceful demonstration.
The decision of whether and when to use “less than lethal munitions,” which includes tear gas, was left to police supervisors on the ground, Abernathy said. Kenney was not involved in specifically authorizing the use of tear gas on protesters who marched onto Interstate 676 on June 1, a city spokesperson said, and learned of the incident shortly after it happened.
The hearing unfolded amid the 12th day of protests in Philadelphia spurred by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Demonstrations have been peaceful for several days, and crowds have decreased in number since Saturday, when thousands of peaceful marchers filled the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
The Pennsylvania National Guard, which had been deployed in the city since June 1, packed up to leave but would “remain on call,” a city spokesperson said Wednesday.