Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced new COVID-19 restrictions as cases rise across the state. He is advising people to stay home for Thanksgiving. (Courtesy of governortomwolf/Creative Commons)

Wolf announces emergency declaration in response to protests

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Gov. Tom Wolf signed an emergency disaster declaration on May 30 to provide necessary assistance to municipalities as they respond to escalating protests in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. 

Wolf announced expanded activation of the Commonwealth Response Coordination Center at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), which had already been activated for the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This activation, combined with the declaration, authorizes PEMA to direct emergency operations in Allegheny, Dauphin, and Philadelphia counties, allowing them to allocate resources and personnel deemed necessary to respond to the situation. 

Protests across the state and country follow the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a white Minneapolis policeman applied his knee to the neck of Floyd for over eight minutes while Floyd told the officer he couldn’t breathe. 

Wolf decided to sign the measure after some protests in the state have turned increasingly violent and chaotic. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney implemented an 8 p.m. curfew on the city Saturday and Sunday nights following reports of vandalism, car fires and looting. According to CBS Philly, at least 13 officers were injured in protests on May 30 and 14 civilians were arrested.

Penn Live reported Harrisburg implemented a 9 p.m. curfew, and violent clashes with police there led law enforcement to use tear gas and pepper spray. Police vehicles were also damaged. At least two officers were injured there. The city was placed on lock down after law enforcement in riot gear were requested to help maintain order.

And in Pittsburgh, the situation, too, turned ugly. At least two police cruisers were set on fire, Penn Live reported, and businesses were damaged or looted.

“People have every right to speak out and demonstrate, but it’s unacceptable to take advantage of protests to incite violence, harm others and destroy property,” Wolf said. “This declaration authorizes the commonwealth and its agencies to assist municipalities in their response to de-escalate violence and keep our communities safe.”

Additionally, the declaration authorizes $2 million in unused appropriated funds to PEMA, which can be increased or decreased as conditions require. 

Protests in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on May 30, 2020. (Courtesy of Todd Watkins)

“Pittsburgh has long been a home to constitutionally protected protests and will continue to be one — but we will not allow others to hijack the goodwill of our community to spread needless destruction, fear and violence,” said Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto in a statement. “I thank the governor for this extra tool to keep our neighbors safe.”

Kenney expressed similar appreciation for assistance from the state level, saying the declaration “will help Philadelphia access resources and police support” it needs to manage the protests.

The declaration authorizes the state’s National Guard and State Police to activate personnel and use resources as necessary to alleviate any dangers to public health and safety.  

Protests in Bethlehem earlier in the day, however, saw a large turnout but remained peaceful throughout. 

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