Some Philly police are ready for dialogue, but are anti-police violence protesters ready to talk?
I easily counted nearly fifty police officers standing guard during a recent anti-police violence rally in Center City Philadelphia.
From beat cops and bike cops, to civil affairs officers and lieutenants, law enforcement had a heavy presence at the Muslims Mobilized Against Police Brutality event, which was one of two anti-police violence direct actions scheduled in the City for the weekend after Christmas.
As I approached closer to where the rally would actually take place, I was stopped by two friendly Philadelphia police officers who I speak with often when covering acts of civil disobedience in the town square.
They wanted to inquire how the protests could somehow morph into a conversation – or a series of them – that focus on finding common ground that’ll extend itself organically to a sustainable community policing model.
What promoted his question was the sadness that he and his colleagues are feeling due to what they perceived is “hatefulness” directed towards them personally for officer-involved shootings that took place in other cities.
When I assured him that the movement isn’t anti-police, but anti-police violence, anti-racist police policies and anti-police brutality, he insisted, still, that some of the protesters – particularly those at the direct action that took place before the one organized by the Muslim Wellness Foundation, Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative and United Muslim Masjid – were caustic and degrading, so much so that it made him and other officers uncomfortable.
If it wasn’t for the respect I have for this particular officer, I may have shrugged it off as just a complaining, salty civil servant. But because this person, over time, has proven to himself to be compassionate and fair, and because a sergeant in the force who I also hold in high regard expressed similar concerns the evening when protesters crashed the tree lighting ceremony in City Hall – not to mention, I, too, have witnessed some behavior and speech that don’t reflect the values of the movement – I feel the conduct of protesters who march under the banner of anti-police violence needs to be addressed, if for no other reason than to preserve the legitimacy of the cause in the eyes of the public – public will is important to any mode of change.
The officer pondered how to frame the message and I quickly interjected and told him that neither he nor his colleagues are the right mouth piece to address these types of concerns. Instead, I said, it should come from someone in the movement; he agreed.
As with most things in life, I won’t wait for someone to do what I know needs to be done, so I’ll say what I think needs to be said:
If the belief of the community is that the police as a whole view the black body as criminal in nature and guilty to proven innocent, the appropriate response is not to then view the entire police force and criminal in nature and guilty until proven innocent; two wrongs don’t turn into progress.
As a young black man, I certainly understand the angst which is present in the black community, but I also accept the reality that communities simply can’t exist without law enforcement. I acknowledge the systemic issues and the series of events and stories that have led us to this moment of serious divide, and at the same time, I recognize now that the opportunity for real dialogue exists and it must be seized upon.
Unless the anti-police violence movement is purely for the sport of protesting, than I recommend we move towards laying out more demands and a vision for the what we want community policing in Philadelphia to look like.
There’s been a lot of talking, organizing and yelling about what we don’t what policing to look like in our communities, but we haven’t spent equal effort putting forth what we DO want community policing to resemble.
In my opinion, the protests in Philadelphia – which have all been peacefully – have served their purpose for the moment. The narrative has been changed, the public is aware of the problem and the government is open to conversation, as they, realistically, can’t afford to continue to pay out overtime for officers who are policing the protests.
And while it’s great to squeeze the establishment in order to get their attention, Philadelphia has spent nearly $700,000 in police overtime in only a two week period When you consider body-worn cameras cost between $75-150, the money spent in overtime could’ve outfitted every officer in the Philadelphia Police Department.
Again, not to say the protest in Philadelphia should’ve happened, because I fully support them and it has opened all eyes and ears to the grievances of the people. But the question now becomes, as we approach a New Year, do we continue to protest, make noise and raise hell for another two weeks, at the cost of another $700,000? Or should we slow down – never stopping completely until we’ve obtained justice for all – make our demands as loud as our chants – among which should be to immediately repurpose the overtime budget for body-worn cameras – and become the first major city to make huge progress in community and police relations in a post-Ferguson America?
I choose the latter and I hope others will, too.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™