Gov. Wolf appeals for calm after protests turn violent in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg

“They are in a really difficult situation and they are trying … to balance the needs of keeping people safe and allowing people the freedom to protest."

  • Angela Couloumbis/Spotlight PA

(Harrisburg) — With more protests against police brutality planned around the state over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Gov. Tom Wolf on Sunday appealed for calm among demonstrators taking to the streets — a day after chaos, looting, and clashes with police unfolded in Philadelphia and other cities across the state.

“To the folks out there who are demonstrating, as you exercise your rights today, do it in a way that honors democracy. Do it in a way that reaffirms its noble potential. And do it in a way that celebrates the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Wolf said during a press briefing at emergency headquarters outside Harrisburg. “Speak your mind and speak it with peace.”

The Democratic governor condemned the injustice of Floyd’s death and urged residents and policymakers alike to work to eliminate racism.

“I don’t want to lose sight of why we are here,” Wolf said.

Asked whether he had any concerns about how local police departments in Pennsylvania had responded to demonstrators, Wolf said that from the reports he has received, he believes they have handled themselves professionally. “They are in a really difficult situation and they are trying … to balance the needs of keeping people safe and allowing people the freedom to protest,” he said. “And that’s really tough.”

Wolf said he had activated the National Guard to assist any jurisdictions that are requesting help. Randy Padfield, who heads the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, said Philadelphia and Montgomery County had requested the Guard’s presence, but could not yet give numbers on how many of its members would be deployed there or precisely what type of assistance they would provide. He said Guard members are also mobilizing in Pittsburgh, where some people damaged property and set police vehicles on fire, but that the city had not yet officially requested help.

“That is completely proactive,” said Padfield, adding that the Pennsylvania State Police is also sending troopers to Philadelphia.

Padfield said the National Guard is not expected to be on the front lines of the response, and that local police departments in Philadelphia and Montgomery County will be the ones coordinating the response to protests. The Guard, he said, could offer assistance through traffic control and guarding property, which would free up officers in local police departments to monitor protests.

“It’s really augmenting their force,” he said.

He later added: “We do not want to put the National Guard, if they are not prepared for that mission to be able to be on the front lines of civil unrest, we don’t want to put them in that position because that puts them in a vulnerable position that they are not trained to be in. But the challenge is that local law enforcement may look at them and think they are trained in that position. So really what we are working through right now is what the expectations are across the board. … And sometimes that is a negotiation back and forth.”

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