PHILADELPHIA – Philadelphia officials announced a $9.25 million settlement Monday with hundreds of people over several lawsuits challenging the police response to the protests and civil disorder in 2020 after George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Officials said the money will be distributed among 343 plaintiffs in connection with police actions during the protests that erupted in west Philadelphia and along Interstate 676 in the city center that spring. In addition, a grant will provide $500,000 to $600,000 for mental health counseling for west Philadelphia residents.
Videos of Philadelphia police firing tear gas on June 1, 2020, at dozens of protesters trapped on I-676 by SWAT team officers on both sides — many unable to retreat to an on-ramp and clambering to get up a steep embankment and over a concrete wall and fence — were spread widely on social media.
Attorneys suing over events the day before in and around a west Philadelphia business corridor that is the heart of a predominantly Black neighborhood said witnesses reported residential communities turned into a war zone, with tanks traveling on side streets "chasing residents into their homes and indiscriminately firing canisters of tear gas at them.”
Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw faced harsh criticism in two audits of the planning and response to the protests, which included multiple clashes, the burning of police cars and instances of opportunistic thefts and vandalism in business districts. One review cited failures in planning that researchers said led to short staffing, emotional responses from officers and sometimes excessive uses of force.
Kinney told WCAU-TV he hoped the settlement would “continue the healing process” following the pandemic, racial injustice, civil unrest and Donald Trump's presidency.
“We've been through the wringer, and if this can bring us to a point where we can continue to heal, it's worth it,” Kinney said.
Outlaw on Monday called the mass demonstrations in Philadelphia and across the nation following Floyd's death “unprecedented in scope” but said her department was “a learning organization."
"Along with city, state, and community stakeholders, we will continue to work non-stop towards improving what we as police do to protect the First Amendment rights of protestors, keep our communities and officers safe, and to ultimately prove that we are committed to a higher standard,” Outlaw said in a statement.
Officials also said the city two years ago ended its participation in a federal program that allows distribution of surplus military equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies. Shortly afterward, all of the equipment received under that program was returned, a city spokesperson said.
“There should be no place for militarizing a police department that is supposed to serve its citizens,” attorney Charles McLaurin of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said Monday.
Some of the plaintiffs cited lingering injuries and health effects due to tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and the zip-ties used in their arrests. Many of the speakers said the settlement will not end their efforts and vowed to seek far-reaching reforms of police operations and conduct.