Soon after a Philadelphia judge dismissed charges against the former cop who shot and killed Eddie Irizarry, some people said it was time to riot on social media. That message reached enough people to inspire break-ins at Apple, Foot Locker, and other stores across the city, resulting in 119 arrests as of Friday afternoon.
The call to what police have termed “criminal opportunists” also reached the city’s suburbs. Now, some lawmakers are taking action.
At a press conference Thursday, a group of state legislators from Bucks County announced a bill to increase the penalties for rioting.
“While recognizing that peaceful protests are one of our fundamental rights, the line between peaceful assembly and violent rioting has been crossed,” said Rep. Shelby Labs (R-Bedminster).
The bill would “increase the felony grading for out-of-state individuals who aid and perpetuate violent rioting, as well as citizens who knowingly participate in assisting or recruiting rioters,” she said.
The bill includes rioters who assault or throw projectiles at police, law enforcement, and first responders and would face felony charges. Out-of-state actors who incite riots would also face felony charges. Pennsylvania residents who knowingly assist in coordinating or recruiting out-of-staters to cause a riot would also face felony charges.
“The events in Philadelphia this week are a clear example of why we need to increase the penalties for rioting,” said Rep. Kristin Marcell (R-Richboro). “A handful of agitators used the peaceful protests to burglarize stores and destroy property because they did not believe they would be arrested or face harsh penalties. We will be working together with Sen. Frank Farry to update the legislation to ensure it specifically targets these criminals, including the outsiders who encouraged this behavior.”
Some in the community are upset by suggestions that the rioters’ actions were somehow legitimized by anger over the judge’s ruling in the Irizarry shooting case. For example, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Jenice Armstrong quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in her response to the violence: “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
Armstrong insisted she “does not condone rioting, not one bit.” However, she added, “rioters didn’t break into those businesses just because they wanted the latest iPad or a pair of overpriced yoga pants. Sure, some vandals saw it as a chance to create mayhem, but some were out there that night because they are angry.”
Labs told reporters Thursday, “Rioting is not a solution. It’s a destructive act that harms our communities and endangers our law enforcement. Criminals have used lawful protests to engage in lawless behavior. The best way to stop this is to increase the penalties for those committed to destroying businesses and personal property.”
Farry called out one social media influencer by name for her role in promoting the violence in Philadelphia’s streets.
“We want to ensure that those who are actually rioting are caught and charged but also those who are organizing it,” Farry said. “If anyone has seen the video that’s gone national from social media influencer ‘Meatball,’ she was essentially organizing some of the looting that was going on in Philadelphia and directing those actions.
“We need to ensure the people who are organizing this chaos, destroying our businesses, scaring our citizens, putting our law enforcement in harm’s way and tying up their resources, serve a significant amount of time in jail for such crimes,” Farry said.
“Meatball,” aka Dayjia Blackwell, 21, was arrested Thursday on charges of conspiracy, burglary, and rioting for the crime spree she caught — and allegedly promoted — on her social media livestream.
“I regret it,” Blackwell told a local TV station after she was bailed out of jail. “I just prefer, you know, never loot again, stay out of trouble, never go to jail,”