On May 25, George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, was killed by a police officer who knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. Floyd's death, and the killings of many other Black people at the hands of police, sparked a nationwide movement for racial justice — including protests on Penn's campus, more than 1,100 miles from Minneapolis. Philadelphia's protests over Floyd's killing lasted for more than a week straight.
On Oct. 26, two Philadelphia police officers shot and killed Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old Black man, in West Philadelphia, again leading to citywide protests and widespread grief.
Black Lives Matter protests, considered the largest movement in the country’s history, peaked in early June but inspired many demonstrations from May to August. Penn students scattered across the nation marched in solidarity with the movement, and specifically called on the University to reimagine community policing and contribute financial resources to the city.
May 30 — Philadelphia's demonstrations began on May 30 when hundreds of protesters knelt in silence in the shadows of City Hall. Protesters — nearly all of whom wore masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — held signs reading "Say their names," "Black Lives Matter," and "Defund the police." The protest grew throughout the day, as thousands of Philadelphians, including Penn students, peacefully marched through the streets.
That evening, many demonstrators gathered around the 2,000-pounds statue of the late, former Philadelphia Mayor and Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo located across from City Hall and attempted to bring it to the ground. Police intervened and began guarding the statue, which had been vandalized with red and white spray-painted slogans. The statue, installed in 1998, was seen as controversial because of Rizzo's tough tactics targeting people of color and LGBTQ people. After the city's reckoning with racial injustice, the statue was removed from its location on June 3. The sculptor, a Penn graduate, told The Daily Pennsylvanian that "it had to come down."
May 31 — Penn President Amy Gutmann released a statement on May 31 addressing 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.”
June 1 — Penn suspended all University operations for June 1, as Philadelphia announced a citywide curfew limiting the hours people could be outside. The city announced emergency executive orders implementing citywide curfews from May 30 to June 5.
June 3 — Gutmann released another statement one day after hundreds of demonstrators conducted a peaceful protest at the intersection of 38th and Walnut Streets near her home on Penn’s campus. Gutmann announced a number of University-wide initiatives to foster inclusivity at Penn and beyond, and announced that that the 2020-2021 academic year would be named the Year of Civic Engagement.
June 6 — Philadelphia's largest protest occurred on June 6, when more than 10,000 demonstrators took to the streets braving nearly 90-degree temperatures. The group marched to the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where a number of speakers rallied the crowd, calling on the city to defund the police department. College senior and president of Beyond Arrests: Re-Thinking Systematic Oppression Michael Williams was among the speakers, denouncing Penn for its continued funding of private police forces while refusing to pay PILOTs to the city.
June 7 — Hundreds of Penn healthcare workers gathered at Franklin Field to honor Floyd and protest against racial inequality in the U.S. healthcare system.
June 15 — Police Free Penn, an assembly of Penn community members calling to abolish policing and transform community safety at the University, released its first statement and petition to Penn in mid-June. The statement listed seven categories of actionable demands including decriminalizing Blackness, protest, and poverty, and both defunding and disbanding the Penn Police Department.
By early June, a petition to "end Penn police state collusion" had garnered nearly 10,000 signatures.
June 24 — Following local and nationwide retaliation against policing methods, Penn announced it would no longer support the Philadelphia Police Foundation in the form of purchasing tickets to attend fundraising events. The University also commissioned an independent review of Penn's Division of Public Safety from the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at Penn Law School. Police Free Penn condemned Penn’s announcement, stating that it failed to address the extent of its relationship with PPF and the harm caused by Penn Police to Black students.
July 24 — Protests throughout Philadelphia and on Penn's campus continued throughout the summer, including a protest against University police on July 24 that began at Penn Police Department headquarters on 4040 Chestnut St. Around 100 demonstrators that day chanted their three demands: "Fire Rush, defund UPPD, pay PILOTs" and also condemned Penn Police's alleged involvement in teargassing protesters on 52nd Street on May 31. More demonstrations occurred in August.
Oct. 26 — Two police officers shot and killed Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old Black man, in West Philadelphia, leading to protests near Penn's campus and throughout the city. Hundreds of demonstrators marched for justice in West Philadelphia that night into the early morning hours of Oct. 27. Wallace Jr.'s death was met with widespread grief and protests among the Penn and larger Philadelphia community.
"I would speak first personally, as a Black man who is grieving and weeping with the family of Walter Wallace, and sisters and brothers all around the country who are tired," Vice President for Social Equity and Community and University Chaplain Charles Howard said. "It is painful. It is exhausting. It is heartbreaking. It is terrifying to see people who look like you killed by police officers."
Penn's statement on the police killing, which was released on Oct. 27, did not mention the word "police" and referred to his killing as a "death," outraging Penn students. Along with several peers, College senior Landry Krebs condemned the email as "a passive way of talking about state-sanctioned terrorism."