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Protesters engage in a prayer on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in remembrance of George Floyd. 

Credit: Chase Sutton

In light of the police killing of George Floyd, Penn President Amy Gutmann released an emailed statement to the Penn community regarding his death. 

Gutmann’s statement addressed the “tragic and senseless” nature of Floyd’s murder, as well as the University’s commitment to creating a safer and more inclusive campus community, “free from discrimination and deprivation.” 

Floyd was an unarmed Black man who died on Monday night, after a white police officer pinned him to the ground and knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The former officer has since been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

The University president directly addressed "Penn's African American students, faculty and staff," noting that “they and their contributions to our community are treasured.” Gutmann added, "it is particularly important at this difficult time that Penn’s students of color know their University supports them, which we unequivocally do."

She also expressed condolences to the Floyd family, and prayers for the "healing of our nation’s soul."

The statement was released by Penn Today on May 30 and emailed to the Penn community on May 31, following responses from several other universities and Saturday protests across many of the nation’s major cities, including Philadelphia, New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. Peaceful protests began in Minneapolis on Tuesday, shortly after news broke of Floyd’s death under police custody Monday night, but escalated on Wednesday when demonstrators were met with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Though Gutmann addressed the protests in Minneapolis, the site of Floyd’s killing, the statement does not reference the police officers who killed him. The statement also did not address the Saturday protests in Center City, in which Penn students joined thousands of local protesters to protest Floyd’s murder in solidarity. 

Demonstrations across Philadelphia were organized by unaffiliated activists as well as activist organizations such as Black Lives Matter Philly. The organization, a local chapter of the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement, released a statement in which residents were invited to partake in a demonstration against police terrorism in partnership with the Philadelphia Coalition for Racial Economic and Legal Justice, a local grassroots organization. 

The Philadelphia protest began at City Hall’s Dilworth Park at around 12:00 p.m. on Saturday. The city's second demonstration, organized by Black Lives Matter Philly, began two hours later on the Art Museum steps, and lasted several hours until crowds began to disperse as the 8 p.m. curfew neared.

Although Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said police would be respectful of protesters, they were met with tear gas and pepper spray hours into the Saturday protests, after a police vehicle was broken into and set on fire. At least two hundred people were arrested, and the majority were charged with curfew violations, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. At least four vehicles were set aflame, and many Center City stores were looted, vandalized, or set on fire as well. 

Protests continued at City Hall on Sunday, and citywide protests are expected to take place again on June 1. 

Kenney has since imposed a mandatory curfew for Philadelphia residents in which “only persons with essential duties” are legally permitted to be outside, according to the Twitter account of the Philadelphia Police department. The citywide curfew was set in place from May 30 at 8 p.m. through May 31 at 6 a.m., and May 31 at 6 p.m. to June 1 at 6 a.m. 

“The events in Minneapolis this week should lead everyone to recognize how much more work our society must do to realize liberty and justice for all," Gutmann wrote. "As a nation, we have much work to do.” 

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