PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Hundreds of people protesting the police treatment of African Americans spilled onto an interstate highway in the heart of Philadelphia on Monday afternoon just before a curfew took effect, leading law enforcement to fire nonlethal bullets and tear gas and halting traffic during the evening rush hour.
The crowds on the Vine Street Expressway also led to the closure of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, the main link from downtown Philadelphia to New Jersey suburbs. Some climbed a steep embankment and scaled a fence as police acted.
Chopper 6 was over the scene as police used tear gas to disperse the herd of protesters.
"Today's deployment of tear gas was a means to safely diffuse a volatile and dangerous situation, and restore order, when it became increasingly clear that other measures were ineffective in accomplishing that necessary objective. We will continue to evaluate the propriety of all applications of force, and make determinations as the circumstances of each unique situation dictate," said Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw.
More than two dozen were arrested as a few hundred other protesters moved to block the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a grand thoroughfare leading from downtown to the city's imposing art museum.
"I can't just sit back while these people are fighting for what's right," said Devin Salerno.
"We are not looters, we are peaceful protestors. And people that don't know the difference between looters and protestors are ignorant," two protesters told Action News.
The confrontation came after the National Guard stationed vehicles outside City Hall and other downtown buildings, officials curtailed public transit, and city leaders put a curfew in effect for a third day Monday after a weekend of destruction.
A few hundred protesters were forced down Benjamin Franklin Parkway toward City Hall after the interstate demonstration. Many went to the Police Department headquarters known as the Round House on Arch Street, where a line of National Guard members and police officers stood watch on the stairs.
Shortly before 7 p.m., a little more than half decided to take a knee as a sign to protesters. Many cheered and videotaped the officers on one knee at the top of the stairs. Afterward, many of the protesters left, but others unsure of what to do, slowly milled about outside the station.
RESIDENTS ARMED WITH BATS
In Philadelphia's Fishtown section, residents flocked to Girard and Montgomery avenues even after the mandatory curfew went into effect.
Part of the group was armed with bats and shovels telling another group, "Don't threaten our cops."
The other group was protesting the death of George Floyd and police brutality.
The Monday curfew was 6 p.m., the same as the day before and two hours earlier than Saturday. The city closed most services and businesses in the center city, including a noon shutdown of all downtown bus, trolley and subway stop.
LOOTING & DESTRUCTION
Officials in Philadelphia closed off much Center City from Sunday evening into Monday morning after peaceful protests over George Floyd's death turned into a night of destruction with store windows smashed near City Hall, merchandise taken from stores and police and other vehicles and structures set afire.
Shattered glass and ATM parts are evidence of an attempted theft in North Philadelphia. Police say looters pried the money machine from the wall of a Wells Fargo at Front Street and Allegheny Avenue at 2 a.m. Monday.
It is unclear if they were able to steal any cash. They left the broken machine on the sidewalk and took off.
In Wynnefield Heights, looters ran from the Target store on City Avenue with merchandise. In South Philadelphia, residents kept guard at the neighborhood store on Mifflin Street to prevent the same.
A store owner whose North Philadelphia business was targeted said the looters have been using social media to figure out where to strike.
"When one group comes from another area, they are using social media to overwhelm another area that's not being hit," said Paul Lim.
TRANSIT & TRAFFIC
SEPTA plans to operate scheduled services on all modes of travel on Tuesday, June 2. Delays and other adjustments are possible, so riders are urged to check for updates.
Bus, subway and trolley service in Center City that has been suspended since noon on Monday is expected to return at 6 a.m. on Tuesday. This will coincide with the scheduled lifting of the curfew in place for the City of Philadelphia.
The Ben Franklin Bridge reopened to traffic Monday night after closing briefly due to the I-676 protest.
Vine Street Expressway is also open after closing briefly due to Monday's massive protest.
All NJ Transit bus service to and from Philadelphia will originate and terminate at Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden.
In other transit updates, Amtrak Keystone Service and Pennsylvania Trains resumes service on a modified schedule. For the Keystone Service, trains will include nine weekly roundtrips on weekends, operating temporarily between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, only. The Pennsylvania modified service will include one daily roundtrip operating normally between New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. Facial coverings are required for all customers in stations and on trains and thruway buses. Amtrak is only accepting cashless payments.
The Philadelphia Parking Authority says normal pricing at garages and lots return beginning Monday. On Monday, June 8, meters and kiosks will be enforced.
PROTESTING FOR GEORGE FLOYD
Protesters - like others across the country, inspired by the death last week of George Floyd, a black man who was pinned by a Minneapolis officer who put his knee on the handcuffed man's neck - chanted "Let him go" after an arrest that was captured in videos posted online as relations between a crowd and police near Philadelphia's convention center grew tense.
On a call with governors Monday before the confrontation on the interstate, President Donald Trump singled out Philadelphia, where as of Monday morning destruction had been on par with that in some other major cities.
"Philadelphia is a mess. Philadelphia, what happened there is horrible. And that was on television. They're breaking into stores and nobody showed up to even stop them," Trump said.
Mayor Jim Kenney responded, saying Trump has not been helpful during the protests. Kenney also said he wasn't prepared to speculate on whether the protests and their aftermath would change the city's plan to ease restrictions on businesses and other stay-at-home-orders by entering into the state's "yellow phase" of coronavirus recovery Friday.
"I'm not saying no, but I'm not saying yes either," Kenney said.
Chopper 6 was over City Hall Monday, where dozens of National Guard members mobilized in an effort to quell the violence.
"I think anyone who says we have control of an unknown situation is just flat out arrogant," said Outlaw.
Outlaw said there were 246 commercial burglaries over the weekend, along with 154 cases of vandalism and 378 fires. There were 429 arrests, at least 181 of them live in the city. She says the looters have been using very sophisticated tactics causing them to make adjustments.
"We have been sitting on a powder keg for some time and it has burst," Outlaw said.
WOLF TOURS PHILLY
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf spent the afternoon taking a first-hand look at the devastation and promised to send aid
"We need to contribute and invest in the rebuilding of Philadelphia," said Wolf.
He says he understands why people are protesting but drew a distinction between protests and violence.
"The fact that this society is not an equal society, we need to do a lot more. And I think the protests for that reason are absolutely called for. What's not called for is the violence that followed," said Wolf.
MOVING RIZZO STATUE
The mayor said the city would accelerate plans to move a statue of former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo that was sprayed with graffiti Saturday by protesters who also tried to topple it and set a fire at its base. He said officials hoped to move it in "another month or so." A few dozen city and state police lined up in front of the statue Sunday.
Rizzo, mayor from 1972 to 1980, was praised by supporters as tough on crime but accused by critics of discriminating against minorities. His 10-foot-tall (3-meter-tall) bronze statue outside the Municipal Services Building, across from City Hall, has been defaced before and was to be moved next year.
Similar protests, many of which began peacefully and turned violent late Saturday, have been happening throughout the country in response to Floyd's death. Floyd, who was black, died Monday after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on his neck until he stopped breathing.
-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.