A $9.25 million settlement was reached with the city of Philadelphia for what the plaintiff’s lawyers called “excessive, militaristic use of force” by police against peaceful demonstrators and residents during the George Floyd protests in 2020.
The settlement was reached with 340 people, lawyers and city officials announced in statements on Monday. The lawsuit, filed in July 2020, challenged the Philadelphia Police Department’s response to protests in west Philadelphia where police used rubber bullets, pepper balls, and other uses of force, in some cases hurting people who weren’t involved in the protests, the lawyers said.
Amelia Carter, a plaintiff in the case, said the Philadelphia Police Department “waged war in our streets.”
“The house was enclosed in gas, and we were trapped inside with nowhere to go,” Carter said. “They haphazardly attacked law-abiding citizens in our homes and on our sidewalks. There is no place for the militarization of a police department that is supposed to serve us.”
Legal Defense Fund Deputy Director of Litigation Rachel Kleinman said the Philadelphia Police Department did more than harm and terrorize people who were exercising their right to protest amid historic racial justice protests.
“It inflicted wanton violence and devastated a predominately Black community,” she said in a statement. “We believe that today’s settlement represents a long-overdue and frank recognition of the stark violence inflicted on these Philadelphia residents and protestors by police, and the continued significance of their calls, along with calls around the nation, for racial justice and police accountability. We hope that it provides a measure of healing to those harmed by police violence in 2020 and beyond.”
The settlement stems from actions from May 31 and June 1, 2020, as part of national protests following the death of Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis.
A 110-page independent after-action report documents the protests in Philadelphia. The report said in one case, protesters became trapped, and chemical grenades were exchanged between police and the protestors, with police initially launching and throwing them.
“Cornered protestors threw the munitions back at police, leading police to re-deploy them,” the report said.
It also said police apparently did not account for the wind, and consequently, residents uninvolved in the demonstrations were negatively affected by the gas. The report notes that video shows instances in which officers inappropriately dispersed 37 mm gas projectiles directly at individuals.
The report also said officers ignored pleas to remove or loosen tightly tied zip ties on detained protesters, causing individuals to lose feeling in their fingers and hands. In one case, when a protestor expressed needing medical attention, an officer responded, “See you in the ICU.”
As part of the settlement, $9.25 million will be distributed among 343 plaintiffs. The police department will end its participation in a federal program that arms state and local law enforcement with military weapons and equipment.
Authorities will also meet every six months with the west Philadelphia community to share use-of-force data and respond to questions and comments from the community. The city also has agreed to commit up to $600,000 to the Bread & Roses Community Fund to provide free mental health counseling for victims of police violence.
In a statement, Mayor Jim Kenney said he hopes the settlement will allow for healing.
“The pain and trauma caused by a legacy of systemic racism and police brutality against Black and Brown Philadelphians is immeasurable,” Kenney said.
Danielle Outlaw, the commissioner for the police force, said her department will continue to improve in protecting the First Amendment rights of protestors while also keeping the community and officers safe.
“The mass demonstrations that took place in Philadelphia and across the nation in response to the murder of George Floyd were unprecedented in scope,” she said. “The Philadelphia Police Department is a learning organization, and we remain dedicated to moving forward in meaningful and productive ways.”
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