HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday joined hundreds of demonstrators as they marched through Harrisburg to protest the police killing of George Floyd, a black man from Minnesota.
Wolf spoke briefly to the crowd, saying, “We have got to stop the divide in this country that separates white and black” and “We need to stop racism now.”
“I’m proud to be here to show my support,” he said. “You’re doing the right thing.”
As he delivered his remarks, some in the crowd voiced anger, with one person yelling back, “What are you doing?”
Wednesday’s demonstration was one of many that have taken place across Pennsylvania and the nation over the last week in the wake of Floyd’s death. Wolf on Sunday addressed the state to express support for the demonstrations, while noting that “some people took advantage of these peaceful protests and ... incited violence and looting" in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and a handful of other cities.
“I urge everyone in the these demonstrations to be peaceful,” he said. “I urge everyone to have respect for the communities and our neighbors. And I urge all of us to continue to call out injustice.”
In response to Floyd’s killing, Democrats in the state House on Tuesday unveiled a package of reform bills that would change Pennsylvania’s deadly force law and ramp up police oversight. The measures are similar to ones introduced after death of Antwon Rose II, an unarmed black teenager who was fatally shot by a police officer outside Pittsburgh in 2018. That legislation has since languished in the GOP-controlled General Assembly.
The lawmakers this week also called on Wolf to take several executive actions, including directing the State Police to create a disciplinary database and establishing a “civil unrest damage recovery fund.” A spokesperson for the governor said he “is supportive of the concepts outlined by the elected leaders." Wolf is expected to make a related announcement Thursday.
Brandon Flood, secretary of the Board of Pardons, told protesters they shouldn’t direct their anger at Wolf, but should focus their efforts instead on local elected officials.
“The governor is beholden to the legislature," Flood told Spotlight PA, adding that getting a small number of council members to agree on something, as opposed to 253 state lawmakers, “is a much easier lift.”
“Folks are mad, and it goes back to the point of not knowing who the direct decision-makers are,” Flood said. "If we are talking about local issues, with the mayor and the council, certainly that has nothing to do with the governor.”
Wednesday’s rally was peaceful and speakers often allowed protesters to interrupt, heckle, and voice their concerns. One of the speakers, Pastor William Ewell, said there should be a collective responsibility to speak out against racism and injustice.
“We all played a role in what happened in Minnesota," he said. “It wasn’t just the cop. It was every time you didn’t speak with your family at a holiday, with an uncle that used a racial slur. Every time you see violations taking place and you looked another way. Every time you do that, you add to the problem."
Holding a sign that read “defund the police,” 22-year-old Kevin Buschan, of Kutztown, said he attended the demonstration to “bring awareness and just stand with the people, against the law and the government, and what has been going on for the past — how long? It’s been enough.”
Buschan said he wants police funds routed to nurses and teachers, adding that these workers are “all begging for supplies to get what they need ... and then we have police ready for riots. Ready for protests. Ready to do whatever they can to keep their authority.”