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Philadelphia Police Department's Response to Demonstrations and Civil Unrest: May 30 - June 15, 2020

Benjamin CarletonTammy FelixMonique JenkinsStephen RickmanChief Robert C. White (retired)Tom WoodmanseeMichael SpeerA. Nicole PhillipsBrian G. RemondinoKimberly L. Sachs
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On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man died after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer. Community bystanders captured the event on video, which was shared widely on social media and resulted in community outrage, an FBI investigation, a civil rights investigation, and the firing and arrests of all four involved officers. The compelling video—8 minutes and 46 seconds of Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd—quickly spread amongst social media, cable news stations, and major news outlets, sparking strong reactions both within the Minneapolis community and across the nation.

This incident contributed to a growing public perception of biased and sometimes brutal treatment of African Americans by police officers. This incident occurred within the context of other recent shootings and deaths of African Americans at the hands of police officers. George Floyd’s cries of “I can’t breathe” harken back to 2014 and the in-custody death of Eric Garner by use of a chokehold. More recently, with the shooting deaths of Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Breonna Taylor, and Philando Castile, many Americans reached a tipping point in their patience with systemic racism and the pace of police reforms, leading to nationwide protests.

The day after the killing of Floyd, protests in the city of Minneapolis ended with a march to Minneapolis Third Precinct Headquarters. Tensions rose as protestors threw water bottles, and police responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. Protests resumed the following day. Once again, in the evening hours, protest led to confrontations with police, who responded with tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash bangs. Later that evening in nearby neighborhoods, windows of businesses were broken, some stores were looted, and two buildings were set ablaze. For the remainder of the week, Minneapolis experienced ongoing protests and damage to public buildings, looting, fires, and civil disturbances across the City. Protests and civil disturbances surfaced in other cities, beginning in earnest in Philadelphia on May 30. For the next several weeks, Philadelphia experienced peaceful protests coupled with civil unrest resulting in looting, vandalism, and burning of buildings. Police deployed tear gas, rubber bullets, and other crowd control munitions and tools, sometimes directly affecting Philadelphia residential neighborhoods.

In the aftermath, Mayor James Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw announced plans “to engage an independent consultant to conduct a comprehensive examination of the City’s response to recent protests and other activities, which will include investigations of the Philadelphia Police Department’s use of force.” Police Commissioner Outlaw stated that “the Department’s commitment to reform must include an assessment of how police responded to the very protests that called for change.” She also pledged to make public a final comprehensive report.

The City of Philadelphia contracted CNA (a nationally recognized, well-established, non-profit research organization with extensive experience in police assessments) along with Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads, LLP (a Philadelphia-based law firm with extensive experience in conducting government and corporate internal investigations) to conduct the after-action analysis of the City’s response to the Floyd protests. The City committed to an independently conducted analysis and openly provided the consulting team access to relevant data and personnel needed to perform the analysis.

The purpose of this after-action analysis is to provide the PPD and other City officials with an enhanced understanding of what happened during the Floyd protests, and to provide guidance on improving future PPD and City responses. This report is a “forward-thinking document” that emphasizes developing recommendations and remedial actions that will strengthen PPD and the City’s future responses to demonstrations, protests, and civil unrest. Importantly, this analysis is not an investigation of wrongdoing (which will be addressed by other agencies), but rather an effort to provide a roadmap to PPD and support agencies to apply best practices and lessons learned for more effective responses in the future.

The timeline for this analysis extends from the national events leading up to the Philadelphia protests beginning the afternoon of May 30, 2020, through June 15, after which there was a falloff in the number, size, and tenor of the protests. This analysis focuses on the actions taken by PPD, coupled with the nature and extent of support of other agencies in response to these protests and civil disturbances. This report does not broadly examine PPD policy, training and practices, but rather focuses on those relevant to this response.

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Details

  • Pages: 110
  • Document Number: IAA-2020-U-028506
  • Publication Date: 12/1/2020
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