By CLAUDIA LAUER and MATT ROURKE
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Hundreds of protesters spilled onto an interstate highway in the heart of Philadelphia on Monday afternoon, leading police to fire non-lethal bullets and tear gas and halting traffic during the evening rush hour.
The crowds on Interstate 676 also led to the closure of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, the main link from downtown Philadelphia to New Jersey suburbs across the Delaware River.
Some climbed a steep embankment and scaled a fence as police fired non-lethal bullets and tear gas canisters.
More than two dozen were arrested as a few hundred other protesters moved to block the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a grand thoroughfare leading from downtown the city’s imposing art museum.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier coverage is below. Please check back for updates.
National Guard vehicles bordered City Hall and other government buildings in Philadelphia’s downtown on Monday as an overnight curfew lifted following ongoing protests over George Floyd’s death that led to more than 400 weekend arrests.
Philadelphia officials closed most services and business in the center city after a second day of peaceful racial protests over Floyd’s death in Minnesota last week turned into another night of destruction in cities nationwide and led President Donald Trump to single out the city on a call with governors.
An overnight curfew will be in effect for a third night, starting at 6 p.m. Monday.
Fire crews battled blazes into the early morning, some that threatened whole blocks either through the spread of flames or collapses and disrupted subway service. Crews responded to nearly 250 fire calls, a fire spokesperson tweeted.
The Ben Franklin Bridge and other roads into Philadelphia reopened, and public transportation had restarted with some disruptions from damage. But transit officials shut down all downtown bus, trolley and subway stops at noon Monday in anticipation of more protests planned throughout the afternoon.
Closures also included city coronavirus testing sites downtown, though officials said sites in other areas of the city are open.
Curfews, barricades and police presence pushed many of the protests into neighborhoods away from downtown late Sunday — but not until more store windows were broken along business corridors around City Hall and dozens of arrests were made.
About 50 National Guard members arrived early Monday and about 50 more were expected soon, U.S. Attorney William McSwain said.
McSwain’s office is investigating whether any crimes committed during the unrest would fall under his federal jurisdiction, he and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, said at a news conference.
He believes that some people from outside Philadelphia incited riots, he said, but also that a lot of city residents participated in “opportunistic looting,” he said.
“We are looking into who are the real agitators,” he said.
In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, city officials said they identified about 15 people in a crowd of protesters over the weekend who were wearing tactical gear and carrying weapons. Police officials said at a news conference Monday that they had evidence that white nationalists had infiltrated the rally, which had a few incidents of bottles of cayenne pepper and other projectiles thrown at police.
Protests of smaller sizes were held in cities across Pennsylvania including Chambersburg, Reading, Bethlehem, Erie and Pittsburgh over the weekend. Several incidents of rioting, vandalism or violence occurred during a handful of those gatherings, but those were eclipsed by the damage and arrests related to the rallies in Philadelphia.
Trump mentioned Philadelphia — where destruction has been on par with that in some other major cities — on a call with governors Monday.
“Philadelphia is a mess. Philadelphia, what happened there is horrible. And that was on television. They’re breaking into stores and nobody showed up to even stop them,” Trump said.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney responded at a news conference Monday calling Trump “a mess” and saying he has not been helpful during the protests. Kenney also said he wasn’t prepared to speculate whether the protests and the aftermath would change the city’s plan to ease restrictions on businesses and other stay-at-home-orders by entering into the state’s “yellow phase” of coronavirus recovery Friday.
“I’m not saying no, but I’m not saying yes either,” Kenney said.
People ran into stores in northeast Philadelphia and emerged with merchandise on Sunday. Police fired tear gas in predominantly black west Philadelphia as people broke into boarded storefronts, stole merchandise and damaged property, including a row of police vehicles.
Television footage showed people smashing cruiser windows, rifling through the empty vehicles and pushing the cars into others.
Meanwhile Monday, several protests and marches were taking place across the city, with little to no incidents, officials said.
Neighbors and residents gathered Monday morning along a business corridor on Germantown Avenue in northeast Philadelphia to clean up broken glass and other debris.
City Councilwoman Jamie Gauthier, who represents parts of west and southwest Philadelphia, tweeted that neighbors had showed up to help clean up the 52nd Street corridor.
A fire that broke out around 7:30 a.m. at a business in the Olney neighborhood was quickly brought under control, Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said. It was too early to say what caused it, he said.
A fire late Sunday that appeared to have started at a Rent-A-Center in the Kensington neighborhood caused parts of several stores and apartment buildings to collapse, Thiel said. Buses replaced a stretch of elevated train line as fire crews worked near the tracks.
The flames at one point endangered the entire bloc
k, and even after the fire was put out, the threat of collapses persisted, officials said.
No injuries were reported in any of the fires Sunday night or Monday morning, officials said. Several firefighters had been hurt battling downtown fires Saturday.
Nearly two dozen police officers were injured over two nights, including one who was hit by a fleeing vehicle and is hospitalized with broken ribs and a broken arm, said John McNesby, president of a Philadelphia police union. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said some of those officers had acid burns, head injuries and other injuries.
Outlaw said police made 429 arrests from Saturday to early Monday, but that number was expected to grow as additional arrests were processed. She explained the difficulty of sending resources to many incident centers spread out throughout the city. Kenney said the city would normally get about 3,000 calls for police service, but had received about 18,000 on Sunday.
“We have been sitting on a powder keg for some time and it has burst,” Outlaw said. “Add the pent up anger and then you add technology… and the way we have been doing crowd control will have to adapt.”
Floyd, a black man in handcuffs, died last week after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes, even after he stopped moving and pleading for air.
Associated Press reporter Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, contributed to this report.
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