Philadelphia leaders, in anticipation of a verdict in the case of former police officer Derek Chauvin, are calling for peaceful protests but preparing for possible unrest.
More than 1,000 members of the Pennsylvania National Guard are on standby, ready to be deployed to the city. Gov. Tom Wolf activated the troops Friday at the request of Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration.
Chauvin is charged with murder in connection with the death of George Floyd last May in Minneapolis. Closing arguments in the trial are set to begin Monday, and it’s not clear when jurors will return with a verdict.
Floyd’s death ignited a torrent of demonstrations in Philadelphia and around the world. The protests were, at times, accompanied by clashes with police and looting.
“While we acknowledge and understand the civil unrest and support the right to peaceful protest, we do not want to see a repeat of the unlawful and destructive acts we endured last summer,” City Managing Director Tumar Alexander said at a press conference Friday.
Kenney’s administration and the Philadelphia Police Department came under intense scrutiny for their response to last year’s unrest, particularly for the use of tear gas on groups of people in West Philadelphia and on I-676.
In an open letter to residents, Kenney, as he has in the past, admitted that deploying gas was a mistake; however, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw told reporters she would not rule out using gas or rubber bullets.
“I do believe it does not make sense to really remove a less-lethal munition from our toolbelt because we never know what could happen,” she said Friday. “It depends on the situation.”
Outlaw said officers will not utilize tear gas or rubber bullets on peaceful protesters.
The PPD, she said, has “learned a lot since last spring” and has been strengthening its relationship with the community.
Outlaw has previously said that her department was not prepared for the scale of the demonstrations following Floyd’s death. This time around, the PPD is already cancelling days off for officers and boosting patrols.
“Things might look different in your neighborhoods over the coming days,” Outlaw said. “You will see officers on bikes and some officers on foot. Some officers may be on horseback.”
Officers will also be paired with police chaplains to conduct outreach to residents, she added.
The city’s Emergency Operations Center on Spring Garden Street is expected to be fully staffed over the next couple of weeks so authorities can monitor the developing situation, according to Fire Chief Adam Theil.
Alexander said volunteers are forming town watch groups to “passively patrol” neighborhoods and business corridors.
Several demonstrations have been held in recent days in response to the death of Daunte Wright, 20, who was fatally shot by an officer during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. There’s also been an outcry over the police killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Chicago.
On the day of the Chauvin verdict, Kenney said he will call for “city-wide prayer.” His administration is holding a series of virtual “healing circles” for residents who feel the need to express their emotions about racial injustice.
Officials will be distributing a toolkit this week to neighborhood groups advising them on how to hold similar events.