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Philadelphia hasn’t been the same since this time last year. The protests that exploded across the city after Minneapolis police murdered a Black man named George Floyd left their mark. Locally as well as globally, the conversation around needed reforms is still ongoing.
How did it first rise to the surface in Philly? So much happened in so many different neighborhoods for so many consecutive days in late May and early June, it was nearly impossible to keep up.
Crowds surged as residents took to the streets to voice their anger and frustration about police violence and racism, and solidarity with the people most affected. National Guard soldiers in sandy fatigues carried rifles through the hearts of communities, and police officers tear-gassed protesters seated peacefully on I-676. During the chaos, people broke into storefronts and burglarized ATMs, sending the sound of the explosions rippling through the night. In some areas, police choppers circled for what seemed like forever, their hum interrupting residents’ sleeping patterns.
Marches and rallies continued at a brisk pace throughout that first week. Before it was over, around 800 people had been arrested — Philly cops among them — and neighbors made new friends as they came together to rebuild.
The city continues to grapple with the implications of the most active social movement in at least a generation. City Council and Mayor Jim Kenney are working to create rules for a new police oversight commission with teeth. Debate over the PPD’s $725 million budget is robust. Institutions across the region have been forced to contend with the stain of racism inside their ranks.
Here’s a timeline of the first week of protests, which inspired — and will keep inspiring — this wave of reform and revolution in Philadelphia.
Saturday, May 30: Protests begin
Five days after the video of George Floyd’s murder went viral, early on a hot, sunny day, a few hundred Philadelphians gathered near Broad and Vine.
For hours, the demonstration was uneventful and peaceful. Things escalated when a police car was set on fire at the intersection. That act — and instigators’ and law enforcement’s response to it — would set the tone for the coming days.
By Saturday’s end, at least nine fires had been set in Philadelphia. People broke into businesses in Center City, with a steady stream of people hitting up stores along Chestnut and Walnut streets to lift clothes, technology, and mannequins from their displays. More than 100 people were arrested, and 13 police officers were injured.
Mayor Jim Kenney ordered the first curfew starting at 8 p.m. on this day. It would last through the week.
Sunday, May 31: Cleanup starts, protests continue, and police tear gas West Philadelphians
As soon as the curfew was lifted at 6 a.m., Philadelphians gathered to clean up the mess in Center City. They placed boards in broken windows. They scrubbed graffiti, and swept discarded hangers and sneakers from the street.
Meanwhile, hundreds continued to protest at City Hall and in various other neighborhoods. In West Philly, where demonstrators demanding justice were sometimes on the same block as people breaking into other stores, police used rubber bullets and tear gas in residential areas — traumatizing residents and adding to the chaos. One family sued the city for it, and was later awarded an $87k settlement.
This was back when former President Donald Trump had Twitter, so on Sunday night he demanded “law and order” in Philadelphia.
Monday, June 1: National Guard arrives, police tear gas more people, and Fishtown vigilantes come out
SEPTA suspended service, the Ben Franklin Bridge was ordered closed, and city officials teamed up with Gov. Wolf to bring the Pa. National Guard to Philadelphia.
But Philadelphians kept protesting, and tensions with law enforcement continued to escalate. Police cars were set on fire in Center City. A PPD inspector named Joe Bologna struck peaceful protesters with a baton, and police released multiple tear gas canisters into a crowd of people protesting on I-676. Bologna was later fired and the highway protesters have sued.
Meanwhile, some Fishtown residents who said they heard “looters” were coming to their neighborhood took it upon themselves to mobilize. Carrying bats and other makeshift weapons, they made threats and allegedly assaulted three people, including a WHYY journalist.
Tuesday, June 2: Protests continue across the city
From Old City to South Street and Center City to West Philadelphia, protests were touching almost every Philly neighborhood on Tuesday.
By this point, police had arrested more than 700 people. Meanwhile, the city’s bail funds pulled in millions of dollars in donations.
In Fishtown, hundreds of protesters from around the city and the region marched to protest in support of Black lives and against the violent mob that’d attacked people the night before while police failed to intervene.
Wednesday, June 3: Rizzo statue removed, people push back against vigilantes
Before sunrise, city crews extracted the statue of Frank Rizzo from the steps of the Municipal Services Building, removing the homage to a former Philadelphia mayor and police commissioner known for his legacy of brutality and racism. Mayor Kenney called the choice not to remove it sooner “a mistake.”
“Immediate removal of the statue is necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of Philadelphians and city employees,” read an order signed by Kenney that week, “and is in the best interest of the city.”
Later in the day, Philadelphians gathered at the Art Museum steps and returned to Fishtown to decry brutality and violence — whether perpetrated by police or by armed vigilantes in their own neighborhoods.
Thursday, June 4: Lie-in at the Art Museum
A memorable sight was formed when hundreds went horizontal in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, laying on the famous steps for eight minutes and 46 seconds — the same length of time that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd.
Various city councilmembers made displays of solidarity during their virtual legislative session, with some kneeling on one knee on the Zoom call.
There were protests at Independence Hall and outside the school district HQ at Broad and Spring Garden. By the end of the day, 755 people had been arrested throughout the week.
Friday, June 5: PPD commander faces criminal charges
As rallies continued on the rainy seventh day in the city, District Attorney Larry Krasner announced aggravated assault charges against Joe Bologna, the PPD commander caught striking a protester in the head with his baton.
Arrests dropped dramatically that day, with just four people taken into custody. Commercial burglaries, which had reached a peak of 411 on Monday, also fell to 47. The 8 p.m. curfew stayed in place.
By this point, protests and subsequent unrest had reached nearly every Philadelphia neighborhood, from Kensington to Germantown.
Saturday, June 6: Philly’s largest action draws upwards of 50,000
Philly’s largest action came one week after the first protests began, along with smaller gatherings around the city.
Some estimates put the crowd size at 80,000 for the day’s big event, which began at the Art Museum steps and continued through Center City and past I-676, where officers had tear gassed protesters days before.
This was the most planned out of the rallies to date, giving city officials a chance to prepare. When demonstrators faced off peacefully with the National Guard at City Hall, things did not escalate beyond words, and the day proceeded with almost no disruptions.
On Sunday, the city lifted its curfew. Also that day, a Mural Arts crew covered the oft-vandalized Italian Market portrait of Frank Rizzo.
Protests continue at rapid pace for weeks
With the Floyd murder in Minneapolis compounded by examples like the police shooting of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and the racist murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, the movement was not ready to subside.
For at least three more weeks, Philadelphia organizers and supporters continued rallying against police violence, city spending on police, and systemic racism and inequity.
The pace of events throughout June and early July was so robust that one volunteer web designer created PhillyProtest.com to collect them all.
A year later, though there has been some legislative change, the system that allows Philly police fired for misconduct to get their jobs back remains intact.
But pressure for reform persists. Protests decrying racism or calling out inequity are a regular thing — rallies that draw hundreds are the norm, not the outlier. For advocates of social justice, Philadelphia’s change is just beginning.