PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia leaders defended yesterday’s use of tear gas on protesters on the Vine Street Expressway. Police say for 10 minutes, SWAT officers used tear gas and non-chemical white smoke to disperse a crowd of protesters from the Vine Street Expressway late Monday afternoon.
Police say the protesters refused SWAT officers’ commands to leave.
“Most of us are a bunch of rule followers,” Kelsey Romano said.
Romano’s parents watched on television images of their daughter getting tear-gassed and zip-tied. Romano is a special education teacher in the Philadelphia School District.
Romano’s parents reached out to CBS3, writing what happened to their daughter could have been avoided.
Romano said the labor-organized march had been peaceful, and they followed a group that splintered away from the main crowd down onto the highway.
“Honestly, I just followed the crowd. I was like, OK, if this is where we’re being funneled to, let’s go for it,” Romano explained. “I honestly thought the worst thing that’s going to happen is, for 30 minutes to 45 minutes, there’s going to be some traffic.”
Romano’s teaching colleague, Emily Simpson, was also marching
“As soon as we turned and tried to come start moving our way back across the expressway, that’s when we started to feel the tear gas,” Simpson said.
The Philadelphia Police Department says they deployed tear gas into the crowd after a state trooper became surrounded in his patrol unit. Officials also say the crowd began throwing rocks.
“Tear gas and other use of force that took place on the highway was a last resort and a decision not taken lightly,” Mayor Jim Kenney said during a Tuesday press conference. “We stand by that statement when it comes to deployment in response to a state trooper being surrounded in his vehicle.”
The Philadelphia Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit is investigating officers’ “escalation of force” yesterday along the Vine Street Expressway.
— Joe Holden (@JoeHoldenCBS3) June 2, 2020
Romano now has a welt from what she believes was a rubber projectile fired at her as she scrambled up a hill.
“As soon as I got up to walk up the hill, I got hit in the back with a rubber bullet, so I fell. Someone else who was protesting next to me picked me up and was dragging me up,” Romano said.
Romano was cited and released from custody.
Since Saturday, nearly 700 people have been arrested and over two dozen police officers have been injured.
Philadelphia’s citywide curfew goes into effect at 8:30 p.m. and will last until 6 a.m. Wednesday.