US elections: Philadelphia curfew may affect poll outcome

Filed on October 29, 2020
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 03: An activist confronts a police officer while gathering in protest outside the 26th Precinct on June 3, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Protests continue to erupt in cities throughout the country over George Floyd, the black man who died while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. Mark Makela/Getty Images/AFP

(Mark Makela)

Curfew imposed in Philadelphia after violent protests erupt following the gunning down of Walter Wallace Jr by police

Pennsylvania is a crucial battleground in the election, but it remained to be seen how events in Philadelphia, a predominantly Black and Hispanic city and a Democratic stronghold, might affect the outcome of the vote in the state.

The fatal shooting of another Black man on Pennsylvania streets by police — with subsequent unrest — has brought the fraught issues of policing and racism in the nation back to the fore of the presidential election in its closing days.

The streets of Pennsylvania’s largest city have been tense since Walter Wallace Jr, 27, was gunned down on Monday by two police officers responding to what his relatives say was a call for assistance with a mental health crisis.

Philadelphia officials imposed a citywide after-dark curfew on Wednesday and the curfew ran until early Thursday. Businesses were notified in a message from the city managing director's office. seeking to avert violence amid protests over the fatal police shooting of a Black man wielding a knife and described by family as undergoing a nervous breakdown.

The encounter, caught on video, spurred violent unrest in Philadelphia, and now has both President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden calibrating how to address some of the same questions that roiled American cities — and the presidential campaign — earlier this year as they negotiate the end game for a race in which Pennsylvania is a critical battleground.

In Philadelphia and its suburbs, voters are weighing how to factor the issue into their election calculations.

Trump, while campaigning Wednesday in Arizona, expressed outrage over the violent protests in Philadelphia and attempted to use it to court suburban voters outside Philadelphia and elsewhere.

“I can tell you, Biden and Harris stand with the rioters and the vandals,” Trump said of the former vice president and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, during a campaign rally. “I stand with the heroes of law.”

In a separate exchange with reporters earlier in the day, Trump spoke about the shooting in purely partisan tones, noting that the unrest had happened again in a “Democrat-run city.”

“They should be able to handle it themselves,” Trump said, even as he suggested that he stood ready to deploy federal troops to Philadelphia if asked.

Biden, who has tried to keep his campaign squarely focused on the pandemic, tread carefully. He initially skipping any direct mention of the Philadelphia shooting as he spoke at a drive-in rally in Atlanta on Tuesday, even as he intoned the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake — all Black Americans killed in high-profile encounters with police — promising they “will not soon be forgotten.” Later Tuesday, the Biden campaign issued a joint statement in which Biden and Harris said that Wallace’s was “a black life that mattered.”

Biden and Harris spoke strongly in condemning the unrest.

“We cannot accept that in this country a mental health crisis ends in death,” they said.

Biden reiterated his opposition to the violent protests in remarks to reporters, saying that “there is no excuse whatsoever for the looting and the violence.”

He also said he’d set up a commission, if elected, to study “how you diminish the prospect of lethal shootings in circumstances like the one we saw.” Biden’s criminal justice plan would increase oversight of police departments and offer funds to support police reforms at the local level.

Amid this summer’s protests, Trump repeatedly sounded a “law and order” mantra. He received the support of several police unions, while repeatedly warning that the suburbs would disappear if he’s not reelected because of some Democrats’ support for building low-income housing in suburban communities.

Hundreds of people were arrested, mostly for looting and burglary as over two dozen officers were injured from thrown object, the police said. The looting happened despite a call for peace by the father of Wallace, who was killed on Monday.

Kevin Hayes, a sales representative who is white, had a handful of Trump campaign signs in the yard of his Springfield home and a “Cops for Trump” sign in his window. He said he “absolutely” agrees with Trump’s characterization of the Philadelphia protests.

“I think it’s terrible the way they’re treating police in Philadelphia right now. They’re not getting any support from the politicians, from the public,” Hayes said. “If they have issues with the police, they should give them more money for training, not defund them.”

Scott Brady, 49, another white Springfield resident and Trump supporter, voted for Democrats for most of his adult life, but backed Trump in 2016. He plans to again this year, and says Trump’s statements about Philadelphia are spot on.

“He’s right. He is,” Brady said, adding that he disagrees with the policies and criminal justice changes advanced by some of the city’s Democratic leaders.

Rick Pierce, who is white, said he understood why people were upset by Wallace’s shooting.

“By now the police should know better,” he said. “He didn’t have a gun, he had a knife.”

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