PHILADELPHIA -- On a day when black leaders called for police reforms, questions were raised about law-enforcement double standards, and the city was very much a political battleground in the presidential campaign, more than a thousand demonstrators gathered, marched, and danced peacefully in Philadelphia for several hours on Tuesday to protest the killing of George Floyd.
In a stark and beyond-more-than-welcome contrast to the chaos of the previous three days, they chanted and sang and even dribbled basketballs around City Hall, in Old City, in West Philadelphia, and near a police station in Fishtown, where an ad hoc group armed with baseball bats had appeared the day before. Some protesters and police shook hands and knelt together.
"This is healing for a lot of people," said 21-year-old Justin Nsaih. "To see people who look like us and who don't look like us fighting for one cause makes us feel like what we do isn't going unseen."
Already struggling for some semblance of normality as the debilitating coronavirus pandemic continues -- underscored by perhaps the most surreal election day in Pennsylvania history -- the city and other towns in the region since Saturday have been rocked by widespread looting, arsons, and skirmishes with police in the aftermath of Floyd's death.
Floyd, an African American, died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for close to nine minutes. The incident has become a rallying point for protests over police abuse and racism, and kneeling a universal symbol.
Since Floyd's death last week, law enforcement officials in more than 40 cities have made more than 7,000 arrests for charges including burglary, arson, aggravated assault, rioting, and looting, according to CBS News.
One person was arrested late Tuesday afternoon in Philadelphia, and police reported 703 arrests since widespread protests and looting erupted in the city on Saturday. Looting also had rippled into other towns in the region since Saturday, including Upper Darby and Upper Merion Township, home of the King of Prussia Mall, and Atlantic City.
Criticizing President Donald Trump, who had called for crackdowns on looters and had described governors as "weak," presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said the demonstrations were "a wake-up call for our nation." Biden, uncontested, won the postponed Pennsylvania primary Tuesday, in which some of the masked voters in the region had long waits.
He spoke at City Hall, hours before a crowd had gathered in that area for a protest on a September-like June afternoon when a plane over Center City pulled a sky banner reading: "Bless the peacemakers for they shall inherit earth" a paraphrase of the famous beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount.
District Attorney Larry Krasner greeted demonstrators as police stood nearby with batons at the ready. "Protesting is not a crime," Krasner said. "We are not going to charge you for protesting," But, he added, "if we see vigilante-type behavior, beating people up, if we see crimes or the illegal possession of guns ... we are going to charge and prosecute that."