Philly’s Top Cop Weighs In on Protests, Possible DNC Mayhem

Commissioner Ross: Many protesters "understand there's no purpose" to getting violent.

Police Commissioner Richard Ross speaks during a news conference Friday, January 8, 2016, in Philadelphia.

Let’s face it: the last week has been brutal for just about everyone in the law enforcement world.

The shocking fatal police shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Minnesota outraged people across the country, triggering waves of protests that have shown no sign of abating. (Demonstrators have taken to the streets in Philadelphia for six days in a row; there were two separate marches today alone.)

When a lone sniper gunned down five cops in Dallas and wounded seven others last Thursday at the tail end of a Black Lives Matter protest, the tension between police and activists seemed to reach an all-time high. Both sides  worried that more chaos would follow. While the rhetoric sometimes grew particularly tense over the weekend, none of the protests in Philly resulted in any arrests or violent confrontations between police and demonstrators. The same can’t be said for other cities.

Police Commissioner Richard Ross took time Monday afternoon to praise the restraint that both cops and demonstrators have shown locally, while acknowledging that the upcoming Democratic National Convention could prove to be far more challenging.

“Clearly, we have a plan that we are comfortable with, but there are always the unknowns. And with conventions comes a level of anarchy that unfortunately you have to contend with,” Ross said. “But I do believe that probably 90 percent of the people that will come here, will come here to protest and demonstrate peacefully. And they will respect this city and their ability to come here and do that.”

The commissioner said the department will likely to continue with its established practice of having cops who work protests wear regular uniforms instead of riot gear, and escort marchers at arms’ length as they move around the city. “I can’t say enough about the men and women in this uniform. Their resolve, their professionalism,” he said. “Because again, they’re human beings, and for them to be able to deal with some of the things they’ve been dealing with — some of the invectives that have been hurled their way have been nothing short of despicable. But despite that, they’ve been able to maintain that level of professionalism that gets us through this.”

Ross said the department has “attempted to make inroads” with a handful of protesters from organizations like the Philadelphia Coalition for REAL Justice, which led multiple protests during what it called a Weekend of Rage. “I wish that we could lower the temperature of the rhetoric, but they feel like they have to be a little more confrontational.” But he was quick to add that he doesn’t “indict” people’s right to protest or call for systemic criminal justice reforms.

And he acknowledged that none of the groups that have led marches across the city in the last week have been violent. “I give them credit for that, because I think many of them understand there’s no purpose in that. And that [violence] diminishes what they’re trying to accomplish.”