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For the second time in five months, the National Guard has left Philadelphia

Philadelphia National Guard (.RGB./WikiCommons)

The thousand-plus National Guard members who were deployed to Philadelphia after the police killing of Walter Wallace Jr. have left the city.

The Guard — stationed in a dozen locations across the city — began to depart Sunday and into Monday, a spokesperson said, 10 days after coming to Philadelphia at the behest of city officials and authorization of Gov. Tom Wolf.

Arriving on Oct. 30, more than 1,000 Guard members, wearing military fatigues and carrying rifles, were posted 24 hours a day at locations including City Hall and the Municipal Services Building, where they were assigned to “[protect] life, property, and the right to peacefully assemble and protest,” said Lt. Col. Keith Hickox, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania National Guard.

An exception was made on Nov. 3 — Election Day — when officials asked for the Guard to stay away from voting sites and city streets while the polls were open.

“I think people will feel safer if the community and city is calm, as opposed to the city not being calm,” Mayor Jim Kenney said at the time.

Some Guard members, Hickox said, are still “working the logistical and administrative elements that come at the end of every activation” at National Guard readiness centers throughout the state, but the mission in Philadelphia has ended.

Wolf mobilized the Guard in Philadelphia on Oct. 30, four days after police shot and killed the 27-year-old Wallace as he walked toward officers with a knife — prompting immediate mass protests over police brutality, unrest, and scattered looting for days throughout the city.

But by the time the Guard — a part of the U.S. military tasked with responding to domestic emergencies — arrived, the unrest had largely dissipated.

On Oct. 31, demonstrators gathered en masse at Malcolm X Park, marching through West Philadelphia, decrying police brutality and systemic racism. The day ended with a youth Halloween celebration.

Days later, when the city released body-worn camera footage of Wallace’s killing and identified the two officers who fired the shots as Thomas Munz Jr., 26, and Sean Matarazzo, 25, demonstrators marched again, merging with a large “count every vote” protest in Center City, chanting “long live Walter Wallace” and calling for the officers to be held accountable.

Though police and National Guard members maintained a heavy presence around City Hall that night, there were no clashes between law enforcement and protesters.

The Guard stayed in Philadelphia past Saturday, the day of Wallace’s funeral.

City officials were also bracing for unrest surrounding the election, spending time war-gaming worst-case scenarios. But instead last week, Philadelphia held daylong dance parties — part of an organized strategy to defuse tension by local progressive groups.

This marked the second time the National Guard has been deployed to Philadelphia in the last several months. In June, as was the case in other states, the Guard moved into Philadelphia for two weeks after protests sparked by the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.

In an email Thursday, a city spokesperson thanked the Guard: “The City is appreciative of the tremendous assistance from our state partners.”


(c) 2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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