The Aramingo Business Association held an emergency meeting with Philadelphia Police on April 8th with one topic — preparing for possible civil unrest when the verdict is announced in the trial of Derek Chauvin. Chauvin is on trial, facing second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter charges in the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Chauvin, then a Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer, was recorded restraining Floyd with his knee on Floyd’s neck for over 9 minutes.
24th District Captain Pedro Rosario led the meeting with other police officials, State Rep. Joe Hohenstein, and Aramingo Business Improvement District Manager Rolando Sanchez at the Samuel Recreation Center. Over 60 business representatives attended.
Captain Rosario said that the worst case scenario is that Chauvin is found not guilty, in which they anticipate protesting — but also the kind of activity that started on May 31st and October 27th of 2020. On those dates, business areas, especially the Aramingo Avenue Business Corridor, were heavily looted and damaged. Following the October looting, stores such as Walmart, Burlington, and Dollar General took many months to reopen. It is feared that whether there is a conviction or not, looting may still happen either way.
The 24th District is creating an alert system in which they will update businesses via email of potential trouble brewing. Green means everything’s ok; Yellow means that business owners should be concerned; and Red means to prepare for the worst.
While not getting into specifics, Rosario said that Port Richmond’s Aramingo Avenue Business Corridor will be considered a high priority this time, which it was not during the two incidents last year because of problems in other areas of the city, especially Southwest Philly. All resources will be available to shut down vehicular traffic into the area, including the exits off Interstate 95. Many looters needed the mobility of cars to load merchandise and leave. The new plan of action is to prevent that from happening. “It’s our best defensive measure to prevent looting,” he said. If looting starts and you’re in the business area, it’ll be difficult for you to get out at that time.
Two main points that police made at the meeting were that businesses should not leave cash in their stores, and they should minimize their merchandise inventory when the verdict announcement approaches. He advised that businesses such as Walmart and Target move excess inventory, including flat screen televisions, to neutral off-site storage for minimal loss. “I really hate to talk like this, but we really have to prepare for the worst,” said Rosario. He added that he’s not saying that looting will happen again, but he needs to fulfill his obligations in protecting the businesses.
Walmart was wiped out of merchandise on the night of October 27th, and damage to the building was so extensive that the store was closed until mid-February.
Rosario asked the businesses to look into how they can improve their defensive posture against another attack on their stores. He advised that businesses pool their resources and hire private security. When private security was employed after the initial attacks in May and October, the thinly-spread police department was greatly helped in stopping the continued looting. He lamented that each arrest that’s made takes two police officers off the street. Thirty arrests were made in the first hour of last October’s attack, taking 60 officers off the street in order to process the offenders.
One business owner asked the police to consider zip-tying offenders and putting them on a bus to detain them until they can be processed later. He said that there were people 10-40 years of age old flowing in to loot last October. “It was like a frickin’ parade,” he said.
Rosario said that the two occurrences last year were organized strikes by Antifa-type groups. The police have digital evidence from PennDOT that there were staging areas prior to the attacks. The attacks also came in waves, with second and third waves of people coming from other places such as New York. Nothing was safe. Retail stores, fast food restaurants, mom & pop bodegas and banks were all attacked. Attackers used explosives to blow up ATMs across the neighborhoods.
The National Guard was brought into the aftermath of both incidents last year. The National Guard will not be a part of the initial response of any possible attack this time. They are currently assisting with the COVID vaccinations. Only city and state police will be involved. State Rep. Joe Hohenstein told the business representatives that the Pennsylvania National Guard comes in late because it takes time for them to mobilize. “Keeping them on standby is not effective for us,” he said. Hohenstein added that Captain Rosario is the only Captain that had to deal with two business districts being overwhelmed at the same time — Port Richmond’s Aramingo Avenue and Kensington & Allegheny Avenues in Kensington. Kensington was hit extremely hard as well, with many stores looted and destroyed, most notably the Walgreens at K&A, and the Rent-A-Center on the 3000 block of Kensington that was burned to the ground.
Rosario said that Loss Prevention Officers at stores just need to be observant if looting starts, and try to get good still or video images of looters. “(Merchandise) is not worth dying for.”