The city of Philadelphia has reached a settlement of $9.25 million with hundreds of people over lawsuits concerning the police response to protests and civil disorder in 2020 following the death of George Floyd.
The money will be split among 343 plaintiffs in relation to police actions during the protests that broke out in west Philadelphia and along Interstate 676 (I-676) in the city center. In addition, a grant will be provided to give $500,000 to $600,000 for mental health counseling to residents in the area, ABC News reported.
Footage of Philadelphia police firing tear gas at dozens of protesters who had been trapped on I-676 by SWAT team officers sparked widespread criticism on social media.
Lawyers representing the plaintiffs claimed that residential communities had been turned into a war zone, with armored police vehicles chasing people into their homes and randomly firing tear gas canisters.
In response to this, Mayor Jim Kenney said he hoped the settlement would “continue the healing process,” while Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw called the protests which followed Floyd’s death “unprecedented in scope.”
Outlaw also said that her department was “a learning organization,” and promised to work towards protecting the rights of protestors and keeping both communities and officers safe.
“We've been through the wringer, and if this can bring us to a point where we can continue to heal, it's worth it,” Kinney said.
"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," Outlaw said in a press conference.
ABC News reported:
Officials also said the city two years ago ended its participation in a federal program that allows distribution of surplus military equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies. Shortly afterward, all of the equipment received under that program was returned, a city spokesperson said.
“There should be no place for militarizing a police department that is supposed to serve its citizens,” attorney Charles McLaurin of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said Monday.
Some of the plaintiffs cited lingering injuries and health effects due to tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and the zip-ties used in their arrests. Many of the speakers said the settlement will not end their efforts and vowed to seek far-reaching reforms of police operations and conduct.