George Floyd protests

How community leaders in Kensington, West Philly and other bruised neighborhoods say they’ll make it through

“What I saw today was every race out there just helping.”

Clean-up volunteers and Clip workers in West Philadelphia work to sweep up glass and collect trash

Clean-up volunteers and Clip workers in West Philadelphia work to sweep up glass and collect trash

Kimberly Paynter
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Nearly every neighborhood in Philadelphia has been affected by multi-day rebellions stemming from outrage over institutional racism and police brutality.

Starting on Saturday, thousands have repeatedly gathered in Center City for various peaceful protests against police brutality, taking part in a nationwide movement decrying the system that allowed the recent murders of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Mn., Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, Ga., and others.

Each night, Philly protests have been followed by different groups of people vandalizing, breaking into and robbing businesses in neighborhoods from Port Richmond to Germantown, despite Mayor Jim Kenney’s order of a citywide curfew.

Neighbors in those communities emerged Monday morning from their residences to a scene many who spoke to Billy Penn described as surreal.

“There’s so many things that I seen yesterday that were beyond comprehension,” said Roz Pichardo, an anti-violence advocate in Kensington and Fairhill. “[W]e’re not gonna have anything to come back to.”

Pichardo attended the Center City protest, and said a separate group of people instigated later chaos, broke into businesses and set fires. “The firebombs, that wasn’t done by anybody who’s from here and that’s the sad part,” she said.

That sentiment was echoed by Majeedah Rashid of the Nicetown CDC, and Doris Lynch of the Port Richmond Neighborhood Association, speaking about their respective areas.

Here’s how various community leaders said they’ll make it through this.

Kensington: Maybe they will say, ‘Damn, I really messed up’

A three-alarm fire decimated several businesses along Kensington Avenue including the Real Deal variety store and a Rent-a-Center.

Pichardo and her neighbors cleaned the Kensington Avenue corridor on and around Clearfield and Kensington for more than four hours Monday morning. Moving forward, she hopes community involvement will help prevent further destruction.

“I think that when people see us doing it they’ll realize…the people who live here have to clean up your mess,” she said. “Then maybe they can look at us and say, ‘Damn, I really messed up.'”

Bea Rider of New Kensington CDC said they and other community partners, including Impact Services and Somerset Neighbors for Better Living, will hold another neighborhood clean up starting at Kensington and Somerset.

“We’re definitely trying to reach out to folks and figure out what they need in partnership with CDCs across the city and the Department of Commerce,” she added.

Germantown: ‘This is bringing our community together’

The Wayne and Chelten Avenue business corridor suffered break-ins at major corporations like Sneaker Villa and small, family-owned stores like G’Town Sports.

Matthew George is founder of I Love Thy Hood initiative, which provides trash cans to business corridors and residential blocks in Germantown and around the city. George got emotional as he described the scene from a morning clean-up in the area.

“Right now, pretty much those people are there to fend for themselves,” he said of a diverse group of business owners who make up the corridor. For him, the unrest only compounded the ongoing issue of lack of city resources and services in the neighborhood.

“They need these services in this area that are catering to them in a way that’s beneficial and not exploiting them,” George said.

Amid the chaos, a glimmer of hope.

“Really this is bringing our community together,” George said. “What I saw today was every race out there just helping.”

North Philly/Nicetown: Businesses need more extensive support

While much of Rashid’s Nicetown business corridor was spared, the bustling Broad and Erie business strip was hit hard by a rash of break-ins. Rashid said sneaker stores, hair stores and pharmacies were being targeted.

There were several community clean-ups following the chaos. Going forward, businesses need more extensive support from neighborhood stakeholders.

“They’re going to need technical assistance that’s going to help them get access to the funding they need to stabilize and bring their businesses back to life,” Rashid said.

That help may be on the way. Rashid said Councilwoman Cindy Bass organized a zoom call with neighborhood stakeholders and discussed plans to organize initiatives to help local businesses apply for financial assistance.

Port Richmond: ‘We’ll support each other to rebuild’

Many stores in the prominent shopping center on Aramingo Avenue were robbed and destroyed. All night, neighbors could hear what sounded like explosions caused by the unrest.

Unlike other neighborhoods, one armed guard confronted some of the would-be thieves and forced them to return the arm-fulls of merchandise they’d stolen.

Still, said Lynch, “Everyone, I think, is just very uncertain and very scared.” Neighbors were hesitant to venture out, but Lynch, who runs several neighborhood Facebook forums in addition to managing the neighborhood association, said residents planned to stand out and protect stores.

“I feel we’ll be able to support each other enough to rebuild,” Lynch said, “but with the pandemic prior to this, the small businesses were suffering tremendously.”

West Philadelphia: ‘We need to show people we’re serious’

Neighborhoods in West Philly from University City to Overbrook suffered the blow of Philly’s string of rolling riots.

On the well-traveled 52nd Street business corridor, videos show groups of people stealing from smashed-in store fronts. At one point, the groups chased police officers down the street.

Businesses large and small on Lancaster Avenue beginning in University City and stretching nearly to 63rd Street were also hit. Central City Toyota on 48th and Chestnut Streets also sustained damage.

Groups rolled through shopping centers on the outskirts of Philly near City Avenue, breaking into Target and Snipes sneaker store, among other shops.

Early Monday morning, hundreds of people were on corridors throughout West Philadelphia cleaning up the mess that was left behind.

Area Councilwoman Jamie Gauthier visited 52nd Street twice: The first time, she called the experience “scary,” in an interview with WHYY. Later, Gauthier found peaceful protesters who wanted to voice their concerns to police. She arranged a call between the young people and Mayor Jim Kenney.

“Since this situation has centered around police violence,” Gauthier said, “I think we need to show people, we need to show Black people and brown people in the city specifically that we’re serious about addressing this issue.”

Want some more? Explore other George Floyd protests stories.

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