On July 14, 2020 the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), the Abolitionist Law Center, and the law firm of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin LLP filed a lawsuit on behalf of residents in a predominantly Black neighborhood in West Philadelphia, challenging the Philadelphia Police Department’s (PPD) excessive and unwarranted use of militaristic force during a peaceful protest.
On May 31, 2020, amid nationwide protests against police violence and other abuses against Black people in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the PPD repeatedly attacked people protesting police brutality, as well as residents, and bystanders who congregated in West Philadelphia’s 52nd Street area. PPD officers used military-style weapons – including rubber bullets, tear gas, and pepper spray – against these individuals as they either peacefully protested against police abuse and engaged in daily activities in or near their homes.
The complaint established that this use of force directed against a predominantly Black community was unconstitutional, violating the plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force, First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and express their views, and Fourteenth Amendment right to be free from racially discriminatory policing under the Equal Protection Clause.
In what many witnesses described as a war zone in an otherwise peaceful, residential community, police officers in tanks traveled away from West Philadelphia’s business corridor and down residential side streets for hours, chasing residents into their homes and indiscriminately firing canisters of tear gas at them — under the guise of responding to incidents of looting. As a result, families, including those with small children, were injured while inside and outside of their homes and, in some cases, forced to temporarily evacuate their homes and seek treatment for tear gas exposure.
On March 20, 2023, an unprecedented settlement with the City of Philadelphia was announced, resolving this case and three others arising out of the police violence directed at residents and protestors in West Philadelphia and the I-676 highway in Philadelphia. The others, by additional law firms, include Welch, et al. v. City of Philadelphia, Hough, et al. v City of Philadelphia, and Zolitor, et al. v. City of Philadelphia.
Under the settlement terms for all four cases, the City of Philadelphia agreed to pay monetary damages totaling $9,250,000 collectively to those who were harmed — one of the largest settlements of its kind in Philadelphia history.
Additionally, the City agreed to:
- Disengage from the 1033 federal program which arms state and local law enforcement with military weapons and equipment.
- Meet every six months with the West Philadelphia community to present data around the Department’s use of force and respond to questions and comments from the community.
- And commit $500,000 to the West Philadelphia Community Fund (to be distributed through a community-led grantmaking process administered by Bread & Roses Community Fund) to provide interdisciplinary, trauma-informed counseling to victims of police violence and provide support for and promote community-led programming in the aftermath of police violence and misconduct.