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Philadelphia Prepares For Potential Unrest Following Verdict

Racial Injustice Philadelphia
Matt Rourke
FILE—In this June 1, 2020, file photo, a protester walks in Philadelphia near smoke after tear gas was dispersed during a march calling for justice over the death of George Floyd. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw defended her actions during days of widespread protests against police brutality this summer after an independent report harshly criticized her direct decision making. The critique came in a report conducted by two independent firms and released by the city controller's office on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Philadelphia police and city officials outlined their plans Friday to respond to protests and any potential unrest following the verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, charged in the death of George Floyd.

Closing arguments in Chauvin's trial are scheduled for Monday, and city officials say they have learned from their mistakes in responding to the protests against police brutality and racial injustice after Floyd's death in late May. The city and police faced intense criticism after several videotaped encounters between police and protesters, including the use of tear gas and less lethal projectiles against a group of protesters trapped on Interstate 676 as they tried to retreat up a steep embankment.

Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw also faced harsh criticism in two audits of the planning and response to the protests in Philadelphia in May and June, punctuated by days of unrest, multiple clashes between officers and protesters, burning of police cars and instances of opportunistic thefts and vandalism in several neighborhood business districts.

Friday, Kenney said he and other city officials have been monitoring the trial and preparing for any unrest. And while some of that response includes increased police presence and resources, the city is also placing an emphasis on offering mental health services to residents and partnering with community and religious groups to offer safe spaces to deal with emotions and potential anger from the verdict.

"What is needed is behavioral health support, not an armed response,” Kenney said.

The city will host a series of virtual events so people can gather as a community after the verdict, as well as partner with neighborhood groups to make sure there are safe in-person events for people to meet up if they need support.

City officials also worked with the business community to set up civilian watches in the business corridors during the next three weeks so police can be alerted quickly about any opportunistic thefts or business vandalism.

Kenney said that the city realized it had “overpoliced” some neighborhoods while other communities “felt abandoned” during the response this summer, and efforts are going to be made to make sure all communities have an adequate number of officers.

Outlaw said all days off for officers had been canceled for the next three weeks and that people would notice a stronger police presence on foot, bicycle and horseback in neighborhoods.

The city had previously placed a moratorium on using tear gas during protest events after the response this summer. But Outlaw said Friday while tear gas will not be used to control peaceful protests, she was not comfortable removing it from officers’ available tools in all situations.

Leaders from the Pennsylvania National Guard and the State Police are stationed at the city’s Emergency Operations Center to be able to make decisions about activation or placement of additional resources quickly. Kenney said two barracks have been identified outside of Philadelphia where guardsmen could be stationed in preparation, but it was unclear from city officials’ statements Friday whether they would be sent to those locations prior to a verdict.

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