Historic Settlement Announced in Philly Police Violence Case

On March 20, 2023, the Abolitionist Law Center, the Legal Defense Fund, and the law firm of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin LLP announced an unprecedented settlement with the City of Philadelphia for the Philadelphia Police Department’s (PPD) violent, militaristic attack on people in West Philadelphia during peaceful protests following George Floyd’s murder in May 2020. (This case is one of four 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.)

ALC and co-counsel’s suit, filed in July 2020, challenged the PPD’s extreme response to protests, which included attacking peaceful demonstrators with rubber bullets, pepper balls, and chemical munitions, and also harming uninvolved residents of the majority Black neighborhood.

Under the settlement terms for all four cases, the City of Philadelphia has 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 will:

  • 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 a fund (to be distributed through a community-led grantmaking process administered by Bread & Roses) that will 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. 

“Instead of protecting us, the Philadelphia Police Department waged war in our streets, tear gassed us, and shot us with rubber bullets. By blanketing a community with tear gas, they haphazardly attacked law-abiding citizens in their homes and on their sidewalks,” said Amelia Carter, a plaintiff in the case. “There should be no place for the militarization of a police department that is supposed to serve us. The settlement’s disengagement from the 1033 program, which arms law enforcement with military equipment, is a welcome start that prioritizes our safety. This settlement represents a significant stride in preventing the police department from being granted the authority to act against its own citizens in the future.”

ALC staff attorney Nia Holston noted, “This landmark settlement provides a singular opportunity for the City to reflect upon the harm it enacted on its residents on that day, harm that echoed Philadelphia’s own history of racism and discriminatory infliction of violence. It is only through the work of the community and the movements that have pushed this city to do better, that we progress to a more just Philadelphia for all who inhabit it. The settlement not only compensates those who were targeted, but provides further opportunity to residents to heal and to continue their work.”

“Often, settlements come in the form of compensating a harmed person without accounting for the damage that police violence does to the whole community,” said Director and Practice Associate Professor of the Advocacy for Racial and Civil (ARC) Justice Clinic Cara McClellan. “This settlement, however, features a recognition of the damage the PPD has done throughout West Philadelphia and it communicates the importance of centering the community in a path towards healing. Today’s settlement sets an important precedent for accountability in future cases.”

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Press Coverage

Video of Settlement Announcement Press Conference, 03.20.23

Philadelphia to Pay $9.25 Million to Settle Suit by George Floyd Protesters
The protesters said they sustained “physical and emotional injuries” in the response by city police to civil unrest after his murder in Minneapolis in 2020
. (The New York Times, 03.20.23)

Philadelphia will pay $9.25M to protesters over police use of tear gas and rubber bullets during 2020 unrest: The city also agreed to contribute $500,000 to a fund that will provide counseling to victims of police violence and offer community-led programming. (The Philadelphia Inquirer, 03.20.23)

$9.2M Settlement Reached in 2020 Philly Protests Where Tear Gas Was Deployed (NBC10 Philadelphia, 03.20.23)

Philadelphia to pay nearly $10 million for police misconduct in 2020 (The Washington Post, 03.20.23)

Philly Inks $9.75M Settlement With Residents, BLM Protestors (Law360, 03.20.23)