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Philadelphia to Pay $9.25M For Excessive Force In 2020 Protests

A combined $9.25 million has been offered by Philadelphia to hundreds of people teargassed, struck with rubber bullets, and detained by police during the 2020 racial justice protests after the police murder of George Floyd. In a settlement signed Monday by U.S. Magistrate Judge David Strawbridge, the city agreed to pay plaintiffs in four federal civil rights lawsuits, as well as contribute $500,000 to a fund that will provide counseling to victims of police violence and offer community-led programming. That money will be distributed to grassroots organizations via grants through the Bread & Roses Community Fund. The damages awarded to each of the about 350 plaintiffs vary depending on the circumstances of their cases. “This power must not go unchecked. It must be confronted,” said Paul Hetznecker, one of the civil rights attorneys in a team representing 240 of the plaintiffs. He said this is the largest settlement in a mass protest-related case in the city’s history, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

In the four lawsuits, hundreds of people sued the city, citing “extraordinary abuses of police power” during the unrest that roiled the U.S. after Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police in May 2020. Plaintiffs asserted that the heavy-handed tactics police used to disperse crowds trampled their constitutional rights to free expression and freedom from excessive force. The lawsuits focused on two incidents: the mass teargassing of protesters on Interstate 676 on June 1, 2020, and the police use of military-style weaponry on demonstrators and neighborhood residents while attempting to curb looting and violence along the 52nd Street corridor in West Philadelphia, a historically Black neighborhood. Police surrounded protesters marching on the Vine Street Expressway, then shot rubber bullets and launched tear gas into the fleeing crowd. Plaintiffs described rashes, pain, and difficulty breathing due to exposure to the noxious chemicals, with some requiring hospitalization and many others suffering mental trauma. During the I-676 event, many demonstrators were trapped against a fence, unable to breathe from the gas, while police dragged others down the hill, detaining dozens.


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