Photos by DYLAN LONG
BY DYLAN LONG I was at the George Floyd protest yesterday that ended on the Vine Street Expressway in a melee with the police, both as a participant and a witness documenting the events with my camera. This is what I saw:
The demonstration started at 8th & Race and snaked through Center City streets near City Hall, ending up on the Ben Franklin Parkway. At approximately 4:50 PM we approached the 22nd street on-ramp to I-676, aka the Vine Street Expressway. Police officers blocked the entrance with their cars, but protesters began bypassing them along the on-ramp by climbing the black fences. Police scattered along the on-ramp made no attempt to arrest or stop anyone from walking onto the Expressway. Soon there were hundreds of protesters flooding the Expressway and we began walking eastbound, spreading out to cover both sides of the Expressway. Cars came to a halt. Many drivers rolled their windows down, began honking their horns and raising their fist in support. The car horns triggered loud cheers from the protesters. I took several photographs which show drivers displaying their support for the demonstration.
Some drivers kept their windows up, many were filming. There was no evidence of protesters damaging cars, being hostile, or putting anyone’s life in danger. The atmosphere was positive, and as we marched, it appeared the drivers had accepted they were engaged in non-violent civil disobedience. After marching eastbound for several minutes, the front of the march suddenly devolved into chaos as panicked protesters began sprinting westbound, in the opposite direction of the march. It happened very suddenly and I wasn’t close enough to the front to see what had happened. I turned around and began running while continuing to take photos. I asked a girl what happened, and she told me police officers were firing tear gas at the crowd. I continued to run with the crowd, which was quickly turning into a panicked stampede. Every single protester in sight had their hands raised up in the air as they moved quickly to escape the tear gas.
I made it off the Expressway and up onto the grassy slope between 20th and 21st streets and started helping other protesters up onto the hill. A State Police trooper in black riot gear brandishing a semi-automatic rifle walked towards me and yelled “Move! Move! Move!” I took a single photograph of the officer [see below] and was hit in the face with pepper spray.
I was instantly blinded and began scrambling up the hill toward the Ben Franklin Parkway, which was separated from us by black fences. Several protesters poured water and milk in my eyes. I eventually made it to the top of the hill where an eight-foot-high black fence blocked our escape as police began launching tear gas at us. I remember giving my camera to someone over the top of the fence and trying to climb up, but my hands were soaked in milk and I couldn’t get a firm grip. I was hoisted over the fence by several protesters behind me and caught by other protesters on the other side. The man I gave my camera to handed it back to me, and I started filming.
I heard a woman screaming “somebody help me up” but nobody was helping her. I stopped filming and went to give her a leg up with my hands. As I pushed her up, the tear gas flooded my eyes and throat, and I was suffocating. I ran away and ran back several times, withstanding what I could from the gas. Everybody in the vicinity was coughing loudly and in agony. I took out my camera and began photographing through the fence as police officers dressed in riot gear and gas masks approached the remaining protesters on the hill and began arresting them.
A police officer at the top of the hill reached out and began swinging his baton through the fence as I took pictures, attempting to hit my camera. I yelled at him that it is my First Amendment right to document the scene while he continued to swing his baton at me. More helmeted police officers in jet black riot gear ascended the hill firing even more tear gas at the fleeing protesters desperately trying to get up the hill and over the high fence. The photographs I took show protesters with their hands in the air and on the ground as they awaited arrest [see above]. Additional tear gas was fired into the area from the parkway by police and I heard a loud ricochet right next to me. It sounded like a rubber bullet so I sprinted away from the fence. My eyes were searing with pain, and I stopped six or seven times to let strangers pour various solutions into my eyes to flush away the burning chemicals. I made it home safe and took a cold shower, so as not to open up my pores with hot water and feel the pain all over again.
Statements from Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw released shortly after the melee claim that the police only took action when a lone State Police trooper in his vehicle came under attack from protesters who surrounded his patrol car and began rocking the vehicle, and throwing rocks from the overpasses. These claims are being used to justify the use of tear gas and pepper spray on otherwise peaceful protesters. I was close to the front of the march and saw nothing like that: no rocks being thrown, no sound of cars being damaged, nothing breaking.
Local outlet Billy Penn reported today that there is still no evidence to validate the claims that Mayor Kenney and Commissioner Outlaw have used to justify the deployment of tear gas and pepper spray on peaceful protesters. The article includes several videos showing police using mace and tear gas in a sadistic manner on peaceful demonstrators.