PHILADELPHIA – In the wake of the violence and looting that took place in Philadelphia and surrounding counties over the past weekend, United States Attorney William M. McSwain participated in a press conference today to address the role that the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania will play in restoring order and enforcing the rule of law in the District. Other speakers at the press conference were Pat Toomey, United States Senator, Pennsylvania; John McNesby, President, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5; Farah Jimenez, President and CEO, Philadelphia Education Fund; Reverend Reginald C. Johnson, Special Assistant to the CEO, People for People, Inc.; and Martina White, Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Below are U.S. Attorney McSwain’s remarks as prepared for delivery.
Thank you, Senator Toomey.
We are united as a nation in our disgust over what happened to George Floyd. Nobody of good will can watch the video of his encounter with the Minneapolis police and not feel shock and anger. The feeling is universal, among both civilians and law enforcement alike.
Accountability for Mr. Floyd’s death must be addressed, and is being addressed, through our criminal justice system, both at the state and federal levels. That system is working and moving quickly. Initial charges have already been filed. Justice will be served.
The right of the people peaceably to assemble is one of our most cherished Constitutional rights. Many of this weekend’s protestors in Philadelphia exercised that right in a responsible manner. Others did not. Instead, they engaged in senseless violence – rioting, looting, burning.
There is no excuse for that kind of lawlessness. If you engage in that type of criminal behavior under the guise of “protest,” you disgrace the Constitution and you disgrace yourself. And you dishonor the memory of George Floyd.
In the face of extreme provocation this past weekend, with various physical objects and obscenities being hurled at them, the brave men and women of the Philadelphia Police Department did their job, and exercised admirable courage and restraint while doing so. Operating under extremely dangerous conditions, they did their very best to keep the City safe – and I applaud and thank them for that.
But restraint only goes so far. It is time to squarely confront any further violence and stop it in its tracks. Any continued violence, destruction of property and theft endangers the lives and livelihoods of others, and interferes with the rights of peaceful protestors, as well as the rights of all other citizens. It also undercuts the work that needs to be done to address legitimate grievances.
It is the responsibility of state and local leaders to ensure that adequate law enforcement resources are deployed on the streets to reestablish law and order. Federal law enforcement actions will be directed at apprehending and charging the violent agitators who have hijacked peaceful protest and are engaged in violations of federal law.
Some of those violations could include: arson, inciting a riot, engaging in civil disorder, destruction of motor vehicles, destruction of federal property, assaulting a federal officer or federal employee, and various firearms charges.
I implore any protestors in Philadelphia to behave peacefully. I also issue this warning: if you engage in violence and destruction and we have federal jurisdiction over your crime, you will be prosecuted in federal court to the fullest extent of the law. That is a promise.
Despite the looting and violence that we witnessed this weekend, Philadelphia is not a community of criminals. We are a City of honest, hard-working, and law-abiding people. We are members of community organizations, residents raising families, and people who serve the public good in a myriad of ways. On Sunday morning, after a night of destruction, people from all walks of life voluntarily gathered to clean our city streets, washing graffiti off of buildings, picking up debris, and helping store owners board up their broken windows. That is the Philadelphia that we need to come together to protect – one that respects our Constitution and the rule of law – and I am proud to be a part of it. Thank you.