State and local leaders address violent protests across Pennsylvania

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — After some protests turned violent Saturday in Harrisburg and across the commonwealth, Mayor Eric Papenfuse and Gov. Tom Wolf held virtual press conferences Sunday.

The one message that was clear is state and local leaders encourage protesting, but they condemn anyone who uses this situation as an excuse for violence.

“My condolences to the George Floyd family. I can’t breathe either right now. I understand what’s going on nationwide,” said Harrisburg Bureau of Police Commissioner Thomas Carter.

Carter spent much of Saturday’s protest talking with protestors, calming their fears and opening a dialogue.

The rally in the city started peacefully.

“Those first two hours of that protest and everyone in Harrisburg gathered, made their voices heard, peacefully, and then it was others, outside agitators, who basically turned things violent,” Papenfuse said.

Papenfuse said a large crowd surrounded officers at North and Front Streets. That’s when he said a woman smashed the front windshield of the police car with a pole and then punched an officer in the face.

“They were professional and really I would say heroic in their response to not be baited by the protestors and not have this escalate to something worse,” Papenfuse said.

One Capitol Police officer also was hit in the head with a brick and several car windows were shattered.

Papenfuse said only one person was arrested by Capitol Police.

Across the commonwealth, there were similar situations.

Late Saturday night, Wolf activated the Commonwealth Response Coordination Center and signed a disaster declaration to provide any assistance necessary to effected cities.

The National Guard was requested and mobilized for the City of Philadelphia and Montgomery County and was put proactively on standby for the city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director Randy Padfield said the Guard is responsible for “Access control, traffic control points, those types of things that normally may tie up law enforcement personnel and that would relieve them to be able to be more engaged with the protests.”

Sunday afternoon, Wolf called for peaceful protests.

These demonstrations are right on the mark. We need to protest injustice. We need to do something about it. And we can’t think yeah, it’s just a part of the American landscape. It has been, but we’ve got to change it,” Wolf said.

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