(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf issued a disaster declaration after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked protests across the country.
The administration also activated the National Guard to help law enforcement in Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh respond to assaults and property damage as local officials blamed out-of-state instigators for inciting violence.
“People have every right to speak out and demonstrate, but it’s unacceptable to take advantage of protests to incite violence, harm others and destroy property,” Wolf said. “This declaration authorizes the commonwealth and its agencies to assist municipalities in their response to de-escalate violence and keep our communities safe.”
Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse and Police Commissioner Thomas Carter said during a virtual news conference that protests on Saturday began peacefully and only turned violent after a second wave of nonlocal “rioters” attacked officers directing traffic near the Capitol building.
“To the folks out there who are demonstrating, do it in a way that honors democracy,” Wolf said. “Do it in a way that affirms democracy’s noble potential. Speak your mind and speak it with peace.”
Officials in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh likewise blamed outside “anarchists” for perpetuating the looting and destruction seen across both cities. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh Mayors Jim Kenney and Bill Peduto said they supported the state’s response Sunday.
“Pittsburgh has long been a home to constitutionally protected protests and will continue to be one — but we will not allow others to hijack the goodwill of our community to spread needless destruction, fear and violence,” Peduto said. “I thank the governor for this extra tool to keep our neighbors safe.”
“I appreciate Governor Wolf for heeding our request for additional state support,” Kenney said. “This emergency declaration will help Philadelphia access resources and police support from other jurisdictions, including other states, as we manage the impact of this weekend’s demonstrations.”
Demonstrators amassed in cities across the state over the weekend as nationwide unrest grows over the circumstances surrounding Floyd’s death during an arrest in Minneapolis on Memorial Day. Bystanders captured video of Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on 46-year-old Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, ignoring the man’s cries that he could not breathe. Three other officers assisted in the arrest, two of whom knelt on Floyd’ back as he pleaded for air.
The Minneapolis Police Department fired Chauvin last week and arrested him for third degree murder and second degree manslaughter in connection to Floyd’s death.
Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania’s General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.