The last year of Mr. Charles Ramsey’s reign as the Philadelphia police commissioner, a job he was appointed to in 2008, was fraught to say the least. Almost everywhere he went to speak or opine, there, too, were protesters who demanded justice for Mr. Brandon Tate-Brown, a black man shot and killed by a white police officer in December of 2014 after a traffic stop. The case was presented as open-and-shut – a black man was reaching for a gun and the officer, fearing for his life, neutralized the threat – and all information about the incident, which from its onset had attracted skeptics, was vaulted.
Protesters in 2015 were relentless in their pursuit of justice and transparency, even marching through the snow, and disrupting a policing town hall I organized in February, then demanding to know: Who killed Brandon Tate-Brown?
The tension climaxed in March when activists, during a town hall meeting at a recreational center in Lawncrest where Mr. Ramsey and others were on a panel, scuffled with police in a scene that garnered national attention, including from The New York Times, the regarded publication which on Sunday ran an pseudo essay authored by Philadelphia’s former police commissioner that lectured the country about transparency after the police killings in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, while ignoring he did the opposite at the tail-end of his career.
Mr. Ramsey, and by proxy the Philadelphia Police Department, in 2015 was the antithesis of transparency. He refused for months to release the names of the officers involved in the 2014 shooting, citing he didn’t want to put officers in harm’s way, despite a threat against the officers never being issued by anyone – protests only grew more confrontational and disruptive because the police department indulged in secrecy.
The facts of the shooting – including footage from surveillance cameras, which show the deceased running away at the time of his death, not reaching into his car, and statements made my Mr. Nicholas Carrelli, the shooter – was only made public because of a lawsuit, and released on the last day possible before the City’s stubbornness would violate a judge’s order for discovery.
Months later, in June, Mr. Ramsey would disclose to reporters that there was no evidence to support the claim that Mr. Tate-Brown was reaching for a gun, and that the false narrative first issued by his department was in an attempt to quickly fed the media. A cover-up, many have said, wouldn’t be an exaggerated description of what took place.
Rev. Mark Tyler, an activist and scholar who serves as the pastor of the historic Mother Bethel A.M.E Church, had initially choose not to advocate on behalf of the Tate-Brown family because he believed the original narrative. Upon a closer look of the case, and at the urging of activists, Rev. Tyler reversed his stance and stood with the family in calling for justice and has remained their ally ever since. When notified of the theme of Mr. Ramsey’s essay, Rev. Tyler called it “offensive.”
The lies, argued the reverend, are what prevented the story of Mr. Brandon Tate-Brown from having a larger audience and the family from getting justice.
Mr. Asa Khalif, a cousin to Mr. Tate-Brown who leads the Pennsylvania chapter of Black Lives Matter and who was among the 10 activists arrested in March after clashing with police, said Mr. Ramsey is attempting to redefine his legacy and distance himself from the controversial shooting.
Mr. Khalif told me this morning that had Mr. Ramsey referenced the controversy in his NYT essay and made it clear to audiences that he only champions transparency because he learned the hard way what happens when you don’t, the content would have been palatable.
But, instead, Mr. Ramsey, he said, is aiming to reposition himself as someone who pushed for transparency head-on in this context, and that misrepresentation “has to be challenged.”
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Photos courtesy of the author.