More than 60 people were charged after two nights of thefts from businesses. The looting followed the dismissal of charges against a police officer.
In the shadow of Philadelphia’s City Hall this week, about 100 people gathered to protest a judge’s decision to dismiss all charges against a former police officer who shot and killed a man in his car during a traffic stop last month. Around dinnertime, the demonstrators packed up their posters and signs and cleared out.
Then, not long after, the police say a separate group of people broke into a series of stores, stealing shoes, alcohol, iPhones and other wares — looting that in some cases was streamed live and that ultimately led to charges against more than 60 people. A handful of additional stores were broken into Wednesday night, the police said.
The proximity of the first wave of thefts to the site of protest led to speculation that those stealing might have been trying to send a message over the dismissal of charges, but the police said that the culprits had seized on the moment to benefit themselves.
“This had nothing to do with the protest,” John Stanford, the interim police commissioner, said. “What we had tonight was a bunch of criminal opportunists take advantage of a situation and make an attempt to destroy our city.”
At a liquor store in Northeast Philadelphia on Thursday, metal shutters lay on the sidewalk after being torn down. Windows were shattered and louvered blinds hung in pieces over the entrance.
Inside, liquor bottles, cardboard boxes and containers were scattered across the floor. Many shelves sat empty. Police officers climbed through the wreckage, as a crew of workers waited to board up the store.
EZ Guyton, who works as a security guard for the shopping mall where the liquor store is, said he saw about eight or nine people taking bottles from the shelves Tuesday night after staff members left.
“People were just carrying stuff out of the door in boxes and in shopping carts,” Mr. Guyton, 72, said on Thursday, as he swept broken glass from the sidewalk.
A spokesman for the state liquor board said that 10 stores had sustained substantial damage and would be closed for some time; several others that were looted sustained less damage.
A family member of the man killed last month, Eddie Irizarry, condemned the stealing.
Zoraida Garcia, Mr. Irizarry’s aunt, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that the destruction was “not going to bring justice to my family or bring my nephew back,” and she urged those upset about his killing to protest peacefully with signs in front of the courthouse instead.
The demonstration in front of City Hall on Tuesday came shortly after a judge dismissed all charges — including a murder charge — against the former officer, Mark Dial. Mr. Dial, who is white, shot Mr. Irizarry, who was Puerto Rican, while the man was sitting in his car during a traffic stop on Aug. 14.
Body camera footage showed that Mr. Irizarry was holding what appeared to be a knife, as officers approached his car. Mr. Dial is heard saying, “I will shoot you,” and adding an expletive before firing, less than a second later, six shots at Mr. Irizarry through his closed driver’s side window and the windshield.
The judge said that prosecutors had not presented enough evidence to overcome Mr. Dial’s argument of self-defense. Prosecutors quickly refiled the charges.
A police spokeswoman initially told reporters that Mr. Irizarry had gotten out of his car and “lunged” at the officers with a knife, but body camera videos later proved those statements to be false. Those videos showed that Mr. Irizarry, 27, had remained in the car. The police said they had found a folding knife and a “kitchen-style” knife in the car.
After the peaceful protest on Tuesday, videos circulating on social media showed a group of younger people forcing open the door of an Apple store, running off with iPhones and other devices until the items started blaring, a warning that the devices were being tracked.
Stores in the city were looted in 2020, during protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and some residents said they feared that businesses like Apple, Footlocker and others that were targeted this week might close their stores for good.
Meanwhile, Asghar Ansari, who owns a dollar store in Center City next door to a Foot Locker that was looted on Tuesday night, said he feared that the city would deteriorate if the perpetrators did not face consequences.
“Right now, as a businessman, I feel very unsafe,” said Mr. Ansari, 52, whose business had closed before the thefts began and was unscathed.
Giovanni Calvert, 20, works as a restaurant host a few blocks from the looted Apple Store and offered another perspective.
He said that although he did not think the looting was right, he understood the anger that followed the dismissal of charges against the former police officer.
“I do know what the reality of being young, Black and scared is in this country and feeling powerless,” he said. “The anger and the aggression is going to go towards the system that’s causing it.”
Several videos that showed the chaos Tuesday night were taken by a locally famous 21-year-old comedian, Dayjia Blackwell, who is known as “Meatball” on social media. They showed people running into closed stores and, later, the police pulling over the car she was in, presumably moments before she was arrested.
Ms. Blackwell, who was charged with several crimes, including burglary and rioting, went live on Instagram on Thursday after she was released on bail. In her video, she vacillated between defiance and sadness and said that she was struggling with how to deal with the news cameras outside her home as well as with her newfound notoriety. Should she embrace the attention, she wondered, or step away from her internet persona until her case was complete?
She solicited advice in the comments of her stream — even Amber Rose, the famous model, chimed in — but still seemed unsure.
“I’m losing my head,” Ms. Blackwell said. “I don’t know whether I’m supposed to be funny or serious with this.”
A few minutes later, she turned the livestream off.