The Lead

Philly to pay record settlement for police misconduct in 2020 protests

By: - March 21, 2023 9:50 am

Protesters gather on I-676 in Philadelphia in 2020 to protest the death of George Floyd (Philadelphia Tribune photo).

By Stephen Williams

PHILADELPHIA — The city has agreed to pay $9.2 million to settle four lawsuits by protesters against the death of George Floyd, and residents harmed by police firing tear gas, rubber bullets and other actions during the 2020 unrest.

The settlement, one of the largest in the city’s history, resolves lawsuits brought by uninvolved West Philadelphia residents and those protesting the murder of Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, in that section of the city and on the I-676 highway.

Under the deal between the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), the Abolitionist Law Center, the law firm of Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin LLP and the City of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD), have agreed to several police reforms, along with paying the damages.

For example, the city agreed to quit a federal program which arms local and state law enforcement with military weapons and equipment; committed to meeting with West Philadelphia residents every six months to present information on the PPD’s use of force and to answer questions and take comments.

“It means that the people of West Philadelphia’s voices were heard,” said Kevin Mincey, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs. “It wasn’t just a lawsuit just about what happened on TV on I-676, but the folks in West Philadelphia were not forgotten. Neighborhoods being turned into war zones by police is never acceptable.”

Mayor Jim Kenney said the pain and trauma caused by a legacy of systemic racism and police brutality against Black and brown Philadelphians is immeasurable.

“While this is just one step in the direction toward reconciliation, we hope this settlement will provide some healing from the harm experienced by people in their neighborhoods in West Philadelphia and during demonstrations on I-676 in 2020,” Kenney said. “We are proud of the progress made through the Pathways to Reform, Transformation, and Reconciliation initiative and continue to collaborate with the Philadelphia Police Department to implement reforms and keep our communities safe.”

In addition, the city has agreed to invest in a $500,000 -$600,000 fund that will provide trauma-informed counseling to victims of police violence and provide support for community programs, such as a grant making process administered by Bread and Roses, a nonprofit group, City Solicitor Diana Cortes said.

According to Mincey, the agreement was the result of a year-long negotiations between all the attorneys on both sides.

One of the plaintiffs, Shahidah, who does not want her last name used to preserve some privacy, said a police tear gas canister was fired into her home filled with gas, leaving her two small children terrified and left her family trapped inside with nowhere to go.

“They monetary compensation is an important first step, but does not represent full accountability for the harm that occurred, Shahidah said. “The city still have not given us a simple apology, and its must properly acknowledge this egregious act before true healing can begin. I pray this settlement will change how the city and its police force deal with those they are supposed to protect and service.”

Another plaintiff, Amelia Carter, said: “Instead of protecting them, “the Philadelphia Police Department waged war in our streets,” tear gassed the neighborhood and shot it with rubber bullets.

“By blanketing a community with tear gas, they haphazardly attacked law abiding citizens in their homes and on their sidewalks,” Carter said.

“For the folks who were affected by the tear gas, it’s a validation of their complaints about how the police responded that day,” Mincey, the attorney said. “It’s (the settlement) going to bring some much needed resources for dealing with past trauma either from past police abuse or this incident in 2020.”

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said the city hopes to learn from this settlement.

“The mass demonstrations that took place in Philadelphia and across the nation in response to the murder of George Floyd were unprecedented in scope,” Outlaw said. “We remain dedicated to moving forward in meaningful and productive ways. 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.”

Stephen Williams is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared

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