Night of riots in Philadelphia: “I have never seen such a strong climate of hatred”

A few days before the US presidential election, Philadelphia is set ablaze. The Pennsylvania metropolis has seen nights of riots since the death on Monday of Walter Walace Jr, a young black man shot dead by police in front of his family, the mother begging in vain. The man, suffering from bipolar disorder and in the grip of a seizure, a knife in his hand, reportedly refused to drop his weapon. Despite the suspension of the two officers involved, this alleged new blunder immediately rekindled the fire started five months ago by the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, suffocated under the knee of a white police officer.

This Tuesday evening, in the district of West Philadelphia where the tragedy took place, a group of a hundred demonstrators progressed on the “south 52nd street”, chanting the slogan of anger: “Black Lives Matter!” Some are equipped with umbrellas and trash can lids as shields. Suddenly, in front of them, tumble three police cars, howling sirens, crackling of red and blue flashes. The window of the lead vehicle explodes under the punches of the crowd, a bicycle is thrown on the door flocked “Philadelphia Police, Honor, Integrity, Service”. The day before, a policewoman, knocked down “deliberately” by a van according to the police spokesperson, had her leg broken, and around thirty other officers were injured.

Protesters face police in Philadelphia./LP/Philippe de Poulpiquet

The rotors of three helicopters roar in the night, their spotlights shine on a group of “protesters” who take refuge under a porch at the corner of Market Street. Jamal, 19, catches his breath. “This is the reality, in America, we persecute blacks! The rest, political debates on TV, are bullshit “. Three police squads surround the group, begin to charge, the batons are blows. A woman collapses in front of the headlights of a stationary car, demonstrators run to her aid, umbrellas deployed to repel the police. A policeman takes out a small tear gas canister from his pocket vest, sprinkles the recalcitrant to disperse them.

“We need to make changes in our system”

Further on, Laron, 23, with a “Black Lives Matter” mask on his face, places a wooden pallet in front of a line of police officers with batons in their hands. “See, he says? We are demonstrating against boys in blue (Editor’s note: the men in blue). These guys are violent and Trump is stoking the fire! The problem is, a lot of Americans think like him, the election won’t change that. Leaning against the pole of a red light, a man, his arm tight around the shoulders of his companion as if to protect her, insists: “These cops do not want to understand that our lives are worth as much as theirs. “When asked for his first name, he shakes his head… then changes his mind:” Angry Black Man! »Angry black man…

In several places in the city, the police intervened without warning to disperse these small groups, sometimes with batons./LP/Philippe de Poulpiquet
In several places in the city, the police intervened without warning to disperse these small groups, sometimes with batons./LP/Philippe de Poulpiquet

Already one of the central issues of the presidential campaign, police violence and persistent racism in American society, will they weigh even more in the vote this next Tuesday? And in what sense? Philadelphia, which was the scene of violence and looting after the death of George Floyd in May, is singled out by Donald Trump who criticizes the laxity of his Democratic mayor. On Fox News, the pro-Trump news channel, the images of devastated businesses and streets invaded by smoke revolve around … like the slogan “Law and order” brandished for months by the president-candidate. The National Guard soldiers were deployed to the city on Wednesday.

Joe Biden, who put everything at the end of the campaign on his image of “unifier” of a nation divided like never before, treated his reaction. If he deplores a new “injustice” towards the black community – an essential part of his electorate – he also warns against looting and attacks against the police. “These events will motivate people even more to vote,” said Democratic Senator Chris van Hollen. We need to make changes to our system, to improve it so that the police are more accountable. Trump, he stirs up divisions, politicizes such very divisive subjects, it makes the situation really dangerous. “

As in echo, in Philadelphia, under the banner of an African hair salon with the iron curtain down, Candice, a 52-year-old housewife, is frightened: “I have never seen a climate of division and hatred also pushed. A lot of Americans are not educated, they are content with what we want them to believe, and Trump is playing on that, he’s a populist. This country could easily fall into a civil war… and I am weighing my words. “

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