City Council Holds Press Briefing, Next Day Passes New Resolution Banning Less Lethal Police Tactics
CITY HALL: Wednesday, October 28 Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke, Council Majority Leader Cherelle Parker, and Councilmembers Curtis Jones, Maria Quinones-Sanchez, Katherine Gilmore-Richarson, Isaiah Thomas and Derek Green held a press conference on the north side of City Hall to address the recent shooting of Walter Wallace Jr by the PPD and the following unrest. Shortly after on Thursday afternoon, the Council passed a resolution banning less lethal police munitions and tactics, spearheaded by Councilmember Helen Gym.
After the surfacing and sharing of video footage of two PPD officers shooting Walter Wallace Jr. in West Philadelphia on Monday, October 26th, protests and looting erupted and continued for several days. Tensions have been building between the PPD and the city’s residents since the murder of George Floyd and initial protests here in May and June, but now that feeling is again palpable. In contrast to this frustration with the PPD felt by many, is also the fear and concern felt by those who feel like the chaos erupting from some demonstrations is not being faced and that looters are being allowed to go about with impunity.
To address this anger, directed towards both the police department and those involved in looting or opportunistic criminal activity, a large gathering of city council members gave a press briefing in which they voiced their concerns and spoke about their ambitions for change. Council President Darrell Clarke called for calm, saying that “we are encouraging as strongly as possible for our citizens — please do not trash our own communities,” Clarke said. “There are so many people who work in those stores, so many people who depend on these stores, the vibrancy of our neighborhoods, we’re concerned that some of these stores, if they close a second time — they’re not coming back. So please, let the investigations take place by the District Attorney and the police. Please be calm, let the process work, as expeditiously as possible.”
Speaking after Clarke, the other members made their remarks and a general consensus was heard about reforming the Philadelphia police department and the efforts made towards preventing these types of incidents that have been attempted in the past.
This sentiment has also been echoed by the family of Walter Wallace Jr. Wallace’s mother, along with Wallace family lawyer Shaka Johnson addressed the press on Thursday, claiming that they did not wish to pursue charges against the involved officers. When questioned by WHYY reporter Vanessa Romo about why, Johnson responded: “Here’s why: they were improperly trained and did not have the proper equipment by which to effectuate their job.”
The council backed up their words and have begun to provide some form of justice to the Wallace family and philadelphia by passing new legislation in City Hall. The new bill, passed Thursday afternoon, bans the use of less-lethal munitions including tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray against peaceful demonstrators by the PPD.
As reported by CNN reporter Amir Vera, after the vote Councilmember Helen Gym clarified how the legislation functions: “This bill does not unilaterally remove less lethal devices such as tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray, or the like from the police department’s arsenal,” Gym said. “It clearly states that they may not be used against any individual engaged in First Amendment protected activities.” This leaves the possibility open for interpretation by the PPD of what exactly “First Amendment protected activities” are, but this is certainly a step towards addressing the wider problem and as Gym says: “This bill is the first step towards reaffirming that public protest is not at odds with public safety, and responses to public protests should not compromise public safety, plain and simple.”
The bill still requires the approval of Mayor Kenney to be codified. The mayor’s spokesman, Mike Dunn said that “the mayor supports the intent of the bill” according to a statement he released to CNN.