Philadelphia — Back in 1978, a respected newspaper columnist in in this city blasted local black elected officials for their failure to criticize police brutality – the scourge that ravaged blacks for decades, often with the sanction of white elected officials like then Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, a former city police commissioner.
“Those black elected officials lack courage,” respected journalist Chuck Stone wrote three-decades ago, slamming Philadelphia’s four top black officials as servile, betraying their constituents.
During the weeks before publication of Stone’s July 18, 1978 news commentary, Philadelphia police had killed two unarmed black men and viciously beat scores of people including a group of black teens attending a party at the home of a Methodist minister.
Now, 36 years later in 2014, Philadelphia black elected officials again face harsh criticism for their failures both to publicly condemn continued police brutality and to utilize their electoral clout to end that festering scourge.
Once again, black officials are being disparaged as servile and betraying the people who elected them. And once again, the trigger for this latest volley of criticism against Philadelphia’s black elected officials is their collective failure to publicly condemn a high-profile incident of alleged police abuse. That incident in question was a vicious January 7 police assault on a teenage honor-roll student that left the 16-year-old needing emergency surgery for a damaged testicle.
“We are outraged by their silence,” activist Paula Peeples said as she castigated the muted criticism about police abuses like that recent teen assault on the part of too many of Philadelphia’s black elected officials.
Peeples is an official in the Philadelphia chapter of NAN – the National Action Network founded by civil rights leader, Rev. Al Sharpton. Since 2008, Philly NAN has unsuccessfully petitioned the White House three times for a federal probe into brutality by Philadelphia police – each time without support from Philadelphia’s top black elected officials.
Peeples was a part of efforts in the late 1970s to end abuses by Philadelphia Police that ironically helped energize a wave of political activism that elected many more blacks to pivotal posts in Philadelphia’s City Hall plus seats in the state legislature.
Black elected officials in Philadelphia now occupy the top posts of mayor, City Council president and district attorney plus the appointed position of police commissioner. Philadelphia’s 17-member City Council includes eight blacks on that governing body. Sixteen blacks from Philadelphia serve in the Pa state legislature, 12 in the state House and four in the state Senate. There are also many more blacks serving in the police department compared to in 1978, when they were a rarity.
Yet conditions for blacks on police abuses (and other social ills) have not improved appreciably, leaving many dubious about the efficacy of electoral politics in reducing misconduct by police. Philadelphia Blacks remain the prime targets of police abuses from beatings to false arrests and fatal shootings, according to reports from Philadelphia’s Police Advisory Commission – a city agency that monitors police misconduct.
“With all the political power in the hands of people of color in Philadelphia, nothing has changed with the violent and racist practices,” imprisoned radical Edward “Eddie” Africa said in a recent letter. Africa is one of nine MOVE members convicted for an August 1978 fatal shootout with Philadelphia police that culminated a five-year brutal onslaught by police against the MOVE organization who fought against police brutality. (A 1985 police assault on MOVE included the bombing of a house by police which resulted in 11 deaths, including five children, who were known to be in the building at the time that a helicopter dropped the weapon on the roof.)
Like those black elected officials lashed in 1978 by columnist Stone for failure to “stand up for their community,” Philadelphia’s current crop of black officials are being blasted for their apparent reticence about assailing abusive, racially discriminatory practices by the city’s police, particularly the city’s controversial Stop-&-Frisk program.
Blacks, in 2012, comprised the overwhelming majority of the 215,000 Philadelphians ensnared by Stop-&-Frisk. Philadelphia’s controversial Stop-&-Frisk – currently under federal court review for alleged abuses – is the signature anti-crime program of black Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and is implemented by Nutter’s handpicked black police commissioner, Charles Ramsey.
Nearly half of the 215,000 Stop-&-Frisks in 2012 were conducted without the ‘reasonable suspicion’ required by law, according to a detailed analysis of Nutter’s controversial program released last year by the Pennsylvania ACLU.
That ACLU analysis also undermined the key premise for Stop-&-Frisk advanced by Nutter, Police Commissioner Ramsey and DA Seth Williams, who all claim Stop-&-Frisk has reduced the number of illegal guns used in street crimes ranging from robberies to homicides.
The ACLU analysis examined 1,852 stops during 2012. That examination showed police recovered only three guns – an exceptionally small recovery rate compared to the exceedingly large numbers of intrusive encounters.
A Stop-&-Frisk encounter reportedly sparked that January 7, 2014 assault on Darrin Manning, an African-American and straight-A student, allegedly by two white Philadelphia police officers, where an improper and unnecessarily rough “pat-down” search by a policewoman allegedly damaged the 16-year-old’s testicle. Ire from black community leaders, including Sharpton’s NAN branch, to that assault on Manning forced Philadelphia’s Police Commissioner and District Attorney to belatedly launch an investigation into the alleged incident. Police officials and prosecutors initially ignored that incident, but it has now, in the wake of media attention, morphed into a grand jury investigation.
Despite public outrage and protests, Mayor Nutter has still taken no public position on this incident of abuse, failing even to publicly request an investigation. A spokesman for Nutter said Manning and his family have recourse through legal actions like filing complaints or lawsuits.
None of Philadelphia’s eight black City Council members has taken a public position on the Manning incident either. City Council President Darrell Clark, whose district is where the assault occurred, has criticized Stop-&-Frisk, but has taken no legislative actions against the program that he contends is flawed.
Only one of those 16 blacks from Philadelphia serving in Pennsylvania’s state legislature has publicly condemned the alleged mistreatment of Manning, who is awaiting court action on charges that he assaulted a policeman and resisted arrest. (Police in abuse cases typically charge the person who is abused, often trumping up offenses.)
State Rep W. Curtis Thomas, who represents the district where the assault occurred, called for the suspension of the policewoman who caused damage to Manning’s testicle. Additionally, Thomas called on DA Williams to drop the charges against Manning. “I don’t understand why the District Attorney has charged Darrin with assault when he’s the one who’s been brutalized,” Thomas said.
Dr. Tony Monteiro, a professor of African-American Studies at Temple University in Philadelphia and a veteran of campaigns against police abuses, said too many black elected officials embrace the misbelief that reflexive support of police is a required posture for elected office.
Too many black politicians, Dr. Monteiro said, have become part of “the law-&-order establishment that used to be the exclusive territory of white politicians,” and thus have become “unwilling to protect the community against the police.”
One of America’s worst urban riots of the 1960s took place in Newark, NJ, triggered by a July 1967 police brutality incident. That riot, rooted in reactions to institutional racism, ushered the 1970 election of Kenneth Gibson, the first black mayor of any major city in the Northeast. Yet, in 2010, Newark’s then black mayor, Cory Booker, brushed off an ACLU report documenting police brutality in that city. That ACLU report led to a U.S. Justice Department probe, the kind of examination Philadelphia activists have sought, so far unsuccessfully.
Zayid Muhammad, an activist in Newark, NJ, finds the silence on police abuses from so many black elected officials in his city, in Philadelphia and nationwide “disgusting, especially with the long history of police brutality” in America.
Muhammad said blacks must back candidates for elected office who are “supportive of social justice and not just nice people selected by political machines. We need to change our conditions and need people who will stay on point.”