A community meeting called to protest the killing of a black youth by a white police officer disintegrated into violence tonight when the crowd turned on and beat two white news photographers. The crowd then gradually dispersed to engage in scattered looting and minor skirmishes with police.
Although a shot rang out at one point, no one was seriously hurt in the second straight night of violent protest here after the youth's death on Sunday.
The evening began peacefully with more than 300 people gathering at the Church of the Advocate in the heart of the north Philadelphia ghetto. Then most of them walked out of the church and into the street, after a dispute over who would address the group.
In the confusion that followed, several dozen young men chased and beat the two photographers, who were standing in the crowd. One of the photographers was taken to a hospital, treated for facial cuts and released.
After the beatings, the atmosphere remained tense, and the crowd seemed ready to march but unable to decide where. Somebody fired a gun inside the church, injuring no one but bringing more than a dozen patrol cars with police officers in riot gear to the scene.
By midnight knots of people stood in the vicinity of the church, occasionally throwing bottles at the police. Youths broke into at least two stores in the neighborhood, carrying out television sets and armloads of clothing before police stopped them. Police said they arrested two juveniles. c
Monday night, a crowd of more than 500 had gathered at the same church, then marched four blocks to the nearest police station where they pelted officers with rocks and bottles. Twelve police officers and one firefighter suffered minor injuries.
After the crowd at the police station broke up Monday, sporadic looting and rock-throwing occurred in the neighborhood for most of the night.
On Sunday afternoon, William 'oward Green, 17, died of a single gunshot wound at Temple University Hospital here after John Ziegler, 34, a 14-year veteran of the Philadelphia police department, shot him accidentally in the stomach while pistol-whipping him, according to witnesses. Green had stolen a car Ziegler had caught him after a chase.
Pistol-whipping is expressly forbidden by Philadelphia police regulations.
City officials today said they would not file immediate charges against Ziegler, who has been assigned to temporary duty in the police radio room. District Attorney Edward Rendell said his office will decide within a week whether to file charges. Mayor William Green promised a "fair and expeditious" investigation into the shotting.
The mood in the streets of north Philadelphia tonight was clearly hostile to the city's stance.
"The cop that killed him needs to be hanged," said Tony Love, 26, while a crowd of young men around him nodded their assent. "A cop is not trained to use a gun to hit on a body. That man took a life. And they got him back up working in the police station."
Tonight's meeting at the church was slow in starting because of disagreements over who would take the pulpit. Finally, the church's pastor, Paul N. Washington, did so, but state Rep. Milton Street, a charismatic man who is north Philadelphia's most popular politician, stood up from the news and led the younger people outside.
After some confusion, Street got a microphone and spoke briefly. Then he handed the mike to the dead boy's mother. Sobbing, she tried to calm the crowd. "What you're doing is not going to bring my baby back," she said. "He was the only baby we ever had."
Then a photographer took a flash picture of her, and the crowd turned and chased him down the street. Two black men got him away from his pursuers and secreted him in a house, and then the crowd started to chase and beat the second white photographer.
He was identified as Mike Hill, 29, of The Philadelphia Journal, and was treated and released at Temple University Hospital. The condition of the other photographer could not be determined.
The conduct of Philadelphia's police has been an issue in the black community ever since the ascension of the controversial, law-and-order oriented Frank Rizzo to the police commissionership in the 1960s and the mayoralty in the 1970s.
This summer particularly, north Philadelphia has been up in arms over high unemployment -- in the Philadelphia area, black unemployment is 16.2 percent -- and over proposed cutbacks in state welfare benefits.
"We've been like walking on feathers all summer," Milton Street said in an interview this afternoon. "We almost made the summer. Then this thing happened."
William Howard Green's funeral is to take place Wednesday evening at a funeral home just blocks from the site of tonight's incident.