During an outdoor press conference the Mayor attended this afternoon in Center City Philadelphia meant to highlight the police department’s new fleet of hybrid cars, which will be used for community relations and aren’t equipped with dashboard cameras – no cruiser in the City has a dashboard camera, confirmed Lt. John Stanford, spokesperson for the department – activists walked up, one with a bullhorn, and demanded answers to why an unarmed black man who last week had complied with a direct command was fired upon 109 times in a residential neighborhood by up to nine officers.
Mayor Jim Kenney, who ordered the police to stand down after one white shirt had deliberately gotten in the face of Black Lives Matter activist Mr. Asa Khalif, said he’s unfamiliar with the term “contagious gunfire,” a phraseology used by Police Commissioner Mr. Richard Ross to explain why several experienced officers frantically discharged their weapons in a mostly black neighborhood, and empathized with “the concern relative to number of shots taken.”
“A lot of tragedy went on that evening,” said the Mayor, referring not just to the late Mr. Christopher Sewell, who prior to his demise had went on a violent rampage in West Philadelphia likely sparked by drug use, but also to his victims: his 12 year-old daughter, who was choked; his 8 year-old son, who, like a 13 year-old boy believed to be a friend of the children, was stabbed; a 70 year-old woman, who had her face slashed; and a 42 year-old woman, who was punched in the face.
Mr. Greg Brinkley, a former correctional officer at Graterford Prison who today wore a medical face mask so that he wouldn’t catch contagious gunfire, made it clear that neither he nor Mr. Khalif were defending the actions of Mr. Sowell, but rather their interest lies in whether a department policy was violated and what, if anything, will be the punishment for the officers, whose names were released to the media shortly after the fatal incident.
“Where is the accountability for the excessive force?,” questioned Mr. Khalif, who claimed that the reckless, indiscriminate shooting by Philadelphia police officers wouldn’t have happened in a predominately white neighborhood, like “Old City or the Greater Northeast.”
Mr. Brinkley, who kept reiterating that officers last Wednesday when responding to a call of shots fired didn’t follow the force continuum, at one pointed shouted: “they reloaded!”
When I asked Lt. Stanford how many bullets the officers’ gun hold, he told me he didn’t have that specific information but noted that officers often carry different size caliber guns.
Mr. Kelvyn Anderson, head of the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission, said the notion that officers reloaded is false. The Glock 17, billed as the most widely used law enforcement pistol worldwide, is what many of the officers are equipped with, said Mr. Anderson, and the firearm has an 18 round capacity.
Mr. Anderson, who lives on the edge of the 18th Police District, will be apart of the board that will review this case and eventually vote whether a department policy was violated. Because of that fact, he was limited in what he could talk about with me, though he did say: “Clearly 109 shots is a huge problem… and it raises a host of tactical questions.”
Regarding the force continuum, Mr. Anderson said officers’ response are often shaped by the force they’re met with, or what they believe they’ll encounter, based on the messages relayed by the dispatcher.
Commissioner Ross was scheduled to attend today’s press conference but for whatever reason he didn’t, and instead he sent, in his place, Deputy Commissioner Christine Coulter, who confirmed to me that none of the nine officers were wearing a body camera. Moreover, in the 18th Police District, where most of the officers who responded on Wednesday are assigned, body-worn cameras have yet to be deployed.
When asked whether a department policy had been violated, Commissioner Coulter said the investigation is only a week old but if it’s found that officers engaged in wrong-doing, it’ll be addressed.
“We’re not going to cover anything up,” she said.
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Photos courtesy of the author.