Peaceful Floyd protests take a turn as police cars set ablaze, Rizzo statue vandalized, Center City businesses looted

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UPDATED: 5/31/20, 11:16 a.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — What began as a peaceful protest in reaction to the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd took a turn when demonstrators started to vandalize and set fire to police cars, as they marched back to Center City from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Thousands of protesters took to Center City Saturday afternoon — the latest in a series of actions nationwide following Floyd’s death, which was captured on video. They did so despite warnings against gathering in large groups due to the coronavirus.

The peaceful protest from the morning was quickly brought to a halt when a police car was set on fire as demonstrators made their way past Broad and Vine streets. More car fires and vandalism soon erupted, along with fireworks.

Demonstrators also spent the better part of an hour trying to tear down the Frank Rizzo statue outside the Municipal Services Building — then set it on fire at least three times.

Protesters tied a rope around the Rizzo statue’s neck and appear to have covered his face and hands in red paint.

Disclaimer: Some videos and images contain graphic language.

Center City, Philadelphia #phillyprotest pic.twitter.com/ftsglZpmUd

— Kristen Johanson (@KristenJohanson) May 30, 2020

City Hall #Philly https://t.co/mgX4JlghD5

— Kristen Johanson (@KristenJohanson) May 30, 2020

Protesters breaking glass wall at the TD Bank at 15th and JFK #Philadelphia @KYWNewsradio pic.twitter.com/YvSdS2mTAz

— Hadas Kuznits (@hadaskuznits) May 30, 2020

Young people smashed the windows of residents’ cars and police vehicles near the Municipal Services Building. Cars started exploding from the fires and smoke filled the air.

Many others — including officers — watched the chaos from as safe a distance as possible.

Philadelphia police are not engaging with protesters but trying to keep the peace. So far, there have been no instances of violent clashes.

Several hundred people also clustered at police headquarters along Race and Seventh streets. It appeared to be a group that had broken from one of the major groups of protesters earlier in the day. 

They did not try to enter the building or break through a barrier of nearly a dozen officers.

The Philadelphia Police Department tweeted that demonstrators can exercise their right to protest, and they appreciate those who did so peacefully. However, “criminal acts” will not be tolerated.

..vandalism. Those acts will not be tolerated, and we strongly encourage everyone to refrain from entering Center City. We will continue provide updates throughout the evening.

— Philadelphia Police (@PhillyPolice) May 30, 2020

The area is covered in graphic graffiti, from cars to buildings to signs.

Around 6:30 p.m., the Starbucks at Dilworth Plaza was completely set ablaze. Fire crews are trying to get through the crowds and smoke to the area. 

Chants for justice has been replaced with chaos and destruction.

Amid the pandemonium, Philadelphia and surrounding counties are still in the “red” phase of the governor’s reopening plan for the coronavirus pandemic. The region is expected to move to “yellow” on Friday, but crowds have squished shoulder to shoulder, some not wearing face coverings. 

Mayor Jim Kenney has issued a mandatory citywide curfew starting at 8 p.m. through 6 Sunday morning.

Initially peaceful

Elijah Glovas-Kurtz attended the earlier protest. While standing outside Roman Catholic High School, he watched protesters interact with officers.

“On Vine, that's where the main engagement is happening. There are some cops on bikes, and there's state troopers on foot, and there's riot police on foot,” he described. “They had everyone boxed in on both sides of Vine and on North Broad.”

He estimated about 2,000 in attendance. KYW Newsradio’s crime and justice reporter Kristen Johanson, reporting live from Center City, said she hasn’t seen a gathering of this size since the Eagles Super Bowl parade.

The marching begins. #GeorgeFloyd #Philadelphia @KYWNewsradio pic.twitter.com/75EVBaDp41

— Hadas Kuznits (@hadaskuznits) May 30, 2020

Protesters started at City Hall where they took a knee in silence at a social distance. They later marched to the Art Museum, where they met up with thousands who peacefully chanted, held signs, and listened to impassioned speeches, to get out the message that injustice against people of color and other minorities will not be tolerated.

“Racism does not end with the coronavirus at all,” said Jacen Bowman of Brewerytown. “Racism started before the coronavirus, it's going on during the coronavirus, and it will happen after the coronavirus.”

“I have never felt such a rage in my soul,” said Tina Johnson of Ardmore. “It is bad, so bad. We can't treat people like this. Not all black people are thugs and doing some harm. Not all cops are doing harm. But we have to teach our police a different way of policing.”

Silent but powerful protest at City Hall where people are taking a knee at a social distance. #GeorgeFloyd #Philadelphia more @KYWNewsradio pic.twitter.com/yzODi149OJ

— Hadas Kuznits (@hadaskuznits) May 30, 2020

Enormous crowd @philamuseum to protest #GeorgeFloyd in #Philadelphia Crowd is peaceful but emotional. Most wearing masks. More @KYWNewsradio pic.twitter.com/QinQnTSWYZ

— Hadas Kuznits (@hadaskuznits) May 30, 2020

Floyd died on May 25 while being physically restrained by police officers, one of whom, Derek Chauvin, was seen kneeling on Floyd's neck for several minutes while the man was handcuffed and face down.

The death was captured on video, which went viral. Chauvin was arrested Friday and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Protests were held in Minneapolis and a number of other cities, including Detroit, San Jose, Atlanta, and New York, though many of those protests erupted into violence.

Businesses looted

Protesters broke windows of businesses and banks near City Hall, like the Wells Fargo at 15th and Chestnut streets.

The Foot Locker and Modell’s on Chestnut Street are completely trashed. Overturned planters lay in the streets.

Mannequins are strewn about on the street as looters sift through the merchandise of various stores.

A car was set ablaze in front of the Apple store on Walnut Street.

Looters on Ranstead Street, 1 block from City Hall. What a difference from peaceful morning protests. #GeorgeFloyd #Philly @kywnewsradio pic.twitter.com/xoaUr2EaH9

— Hadas Kuznits (@hadaskuznits) May 30, 2020

KYW Newsradio’s Kristen Johanson was on the scene, noting this crowd is completely different from those who attended the earlier protest. It appears many who are looting and vandalizing are teens or young adults.

City’s response

At a city briefing Saturday night, the mayor commended the initial protests that illustrated “our collective grief.” But the “anger” that followed “cannot and will not continue.”

“We all have reasons to be deeply disturbed by systemic racism that has plagued our society for far too long,” Kenney said. “But what's taken place today in our city and across the nation is unacceptable. None of today's acts of violence or damage to property will do anything to restore faith and trust between the police and communities of color.

“We'll continue to hold bad cops accountable and we'll those who committed these acts today accountable also. And we will continue to support the police officers who protect and serve our residents with dignity every single day.”

Kenney also commended the officers, who were spit on and had bottles of urine thrown at them.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw echoed the mayor in praising the initial protests, saying that demonstrators, approximately 3,000 at the event's peak, conscientiously exercised their constitutional rights.

"We appreciate their voice and the lawful manner in which they expressed their anger and frustration over the tragedies that continue to take place all over the nation," she said.

"However," she continued, "later in the afternoon and into the evening, others converged on Center City and committed numerous acts of vandalism and violence. The actions of those persons were unlawful and were not in furtherance of any noble or ethical issue or cause."

According to Outlaw, 13 police officers were injured "either while attempting to control crowds, make arrests, and prevent property breaches and other acts of vandalism, and also as a result of liquid and solid projectiles being thrown at them." There were also civilian injuries, though she did not have a specific number available at the time.

"Throughout the afternoon we have requested mutual aid support from Bucks and Montgomery counties, Abington Township, Pennsylvania State Police, SEPTA and various local universities," Outlaw added.

The commissioner also reported at least nine fires set to either vehicles or structures.

Later in the evening, a Philadelphia police officer on a bike was struck by a car near Seventh and Chestnut streets.

The officer was taken to the hospital and is reportedly in stable condition.

9th Dist. Bike Officer was attempting to stop individuals in a vehicle who were involved in looting a business in the area of 7th and Chestnut. The individual ran over the officer while escaping. Officer currently stable at Jefferson Hospital with a broken arm and other injuries

— Philadelphia Police (@PhillyPolice) May 31, 2020

At least 140 arrests have been made to date, according to police, for theft, burglary, looting, assault on police, as well as curfew, firearms and code violations.

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KYW Newsradio's Hadas Kuznits, Kristen Johanson, Alex Silverman, Rachel Kurland, Andre Bennett, Andrew Kramer, Cherri Gregg and John McDevitt contributed to this report.
This is a developing story. Stay with KYW Newsradio for the latest.