PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Dozens of people faced criminal charges Wednesday after a night of social media-fueled mayhem in which groups of thieves, apparently working together, smashed their way into stores in several areas of Philadelphia, stuffing plastic bags with merchandise and fleeing, authorities said.
Police said they made at least 52 arrests. Burglary, theft and other counts have been filed so far against at least 30 people, all but three of them adults, according to Jane Roh, spokesperson for the Philadelphia district attorney’s office.
The flash mob-style ransacking Tuesday night at dozens of stores including Foot Locker, Lululemon and Apple came after a peaceful protest over a judge’s decision to dismiss murder and other charges against a Philadelphia police officer who shot and killed a driver, Eddie Irizarry, through a rolled-up window.
Those doing the ransacking were not affiliated with the protest, Interim Police Commissioner John Stanford said at a news conference, calling the group “a bunch of criminal opportunists.”
At least 18 state-run liquor stores were broken into, leading the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to close all 48 of its Philadelphia retail locations and one in suburban Cheltenham on Wednesday. No employees were hurt Tuesday night, but “some were understandably shaken,” said liquor board spokesperson Shawn Kelly.
The stores were “closed in the interest of employee safety and while we assess the damage and loss that occurred. We will reopen stores when it is safe to do so and when the damage is repaired,” Kelly said.
Video on social media showed masked people in hoodies running out of Lululemon with merchandise and police officers grabbing several and tackling them to the sidewalk. Photos of a sporting goods store at a mall showed mannequins and sneakers scattered on the sidewalk.
The thefts and unrest stretched from downtown to northeast and west Philadelphia, leaving smashed display windows and broken storefront coverings. Police said seven cars were stolen from a lot in the northeast. One of the cars had been recovered as of Wednesday afternoon.
Six businesses in a single retail corridor of North Philadelphia were looted, including three pharmacies, a hair salon, a tax preparation company and a cellphone store, according to the North 22nd Street Business Corridor, a business group.
Benjamin Nochum, the pharmacist and store manager at Patriot Pharmacy, said it was the third time since 2020 his business had been hit.
“When looters steal from us, what they don’t seem to understand is that they are also stealing from our neighbors,” Nochum said in a statement. ”It makes you question how much longer you can hang on.”
People appeared to have organized efforts on social media, according to Stanford, the interim police commissioner. Police are investigating “that there was possibly a caravan of a number of different vehicles that were going from location to location.” Video posted to social media showed people hanging out of cars in a shopping center parking lot, appearing to yell directions to one another.
“This destructive and illegal behavior cannot and will not be tolerated in our city,” said Mayor Jim Kenney, a Democrat, calling it a “sickening display of opportunistic criminal activity.”
His administration is working with police to assess “which areas of the city may need increased coverage or additional resources,” he said.
The chaos in Philadelphia was reminiscent of similarly brazen smash-and-grab thefts elsewhere, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area, where organized groups of thieves, some carrying crowbars and hammers, have systematically targeted high-end stores.
There were a large number of young people in Philadelphia’s downtown business corridor, called Center City, shortly before 8 p.m., and some officers stopped a group of males “dressed in black attire and wearing masks,” according to a police news release.
At that time, reports and 911 calls came in about the Foot Locker store. When police arrived, they found it had been “ransacked in a coordinated attack,” the news release said.
By 8:12 p.m., police responded to similar calls at Lululemon, where police wrestled a few suspects to the ground as people streamed out of the store. Some of the suspected thieves slipped past police and got away, according to video posted to social media.
Shortly afterward, calls directed police to the Apple Store, where thieves had forced their way in and made off with phones and tablets — then smashed them on the ground when they realized the devices were disabled and their alarms were going off, social media video showed. Some of the merchandise was recovered, according to a police news release.
No injuries were immediately reported, but CBS Philadelphia reported that a security guard was assaulted at the Foot Locker.
The thefts occurred the same day Target announced it will close nine stores in four states, including one in New York City’s East Harlem neighborhood, and three in the San Francisco Bay Area, saying that theft and organized retail crime have threatened the safety of its workers and customers.