Philadelphia City Council hears from protesters harmed by police use of force

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Philadelphia City Council's Public Safety Committee held a virtual meeting on Wednesday to hear from demonstrators impacted by police use of force earlier this summer during protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd and cries for police reform.

For over three hours in a virtual public hearing via Zoom, the Public Safety Committee heard from people who say they were tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed or shot with rubber bullets during protests in late May and early June.

"The police shot tear gas at people in wheelchairs at Chestnut Street and Walnut Street," said Rev. Abby Tennis of the First Unitarian Church.

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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.

"I was met by police in heavy riot gear and sprayed with pepper spray without warning from behind," said Simone Brown of West Philadelphia.

During a June 2 demonstration, protesters marched onto the Vine Street Expressway and brought rush-hour traffic to a halt. Police later fired tear gas on protesters.

"The police cannot be trusted with weapons like pepper spray and rubber bullets or any tactics banned by international law," said protester Judith Palmer.

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Police deploy tear gas as protesters block Vine Street Expressway in Philly on June 1, 2020.

"Yes, people were looting and I mean looting loosely, but to be fair, they had been in the house for months. The government both local and federal weren't doing anything to provide relief," said protester Shakira King.

In the weeks following the tear gas incident, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and Mayor Jim Kenney publicly apologized.

This summer, Action News talked with some of those protesters who are taking legal action after being maced in the face.

"The last thing I remember is a police officer walking towards us," recalled protester Katharine Miller.

READ MORE: Philadelphia protesters gassed, maced on I-676 taking legal action

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Some protesters are taking legal action after a demonstration spilled onto I-676 in the heart of Philadelphia earlier this month, leading law enforcement to fire tear gas and use pepper spray in the middle of rush hour traffic.

Outlaw appeared briefly near the end of the hearing indicating that she was listening. Philadelphia police have placed a moratorium on the use of tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.

"We are seeking to make that permanent through our City Council. The ban with the bill applies to First Amendment activity," said Councilwoman Helen Gym.

During Thursday's City Council meeting, Gym plans to introduce legislation to that effect. She expects to be hearing from the administration for their reaction before a formal vote on such a bill.
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