I don’t know what I expected from the public when the Philadelphia District Attorney last Tuesday was indicted on corruption charges, but I surely didn’t expect indifference, save for husky social media posts – some which came from those who now have buyer’s remorse after renewing their subscription in 2013 to an pompous personality first elected in 2010 who put generating private wealth ahead of drumming up public trust – that serves as a soapbox for faux outrage.
It’s not that Philadelphians can’t get riled up; history shows that this city is capable of generating much emotion, ranging from jubilee when a sports team wins, to grief when a star athlete is traded, to anger when police brutality or capitalist greed takes center stage.
But overall, particularly in the present day, reactions en masse to the civic institutions that go awry here are rarely publicly displayed with a zeal that conveys a life-or-death sense of urgency.
Indeed, Philadelphians tend to shrug-off political corruption as if it’s an act that hurts only the corrupted rather than an occurrence that damages the system in its entirety, and exacerbates a long established trust deficit which, needless to say, impacts everyone govern by said system.
As of this writing, it’s been almost a week since a grand jury returned a 23-count indictment against Mr. Seth Williams alleging he engaged in pay-to-play schemes with local businessmen, and yet the only public action demanding his resignation took place today outside his office where roughly a dozen activists, myself included, took to the street to display outrage and to, again, cast a vote of no confidence.
Today’s activism in the pouring rain across the street from City Hall was eerily similar to a scene that played out almost four years ago where some of the same activists present on Monday – Mr. Asa Khalif of Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania, Mr. Greg Brinkley, formerly of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Action Network and myself – were then protesting the arrest and jailing of a young black boy named Mr. Tomayo McDuffy, who the DA’s office was convinced was guilty of attempted murder despite no existence of physical evidence tying Mr. McDuffy to the scene of the alleged crime – Mr. McDuffy turned 18 in prison, was bailed out by Mr. Brinkley and, almost a year later, was cleared of any wrongdoing by the DA’s office.
That case was the catalyst for the initial vote of no confidence, and almost everything Mr. Williams did – including not re-opening the criminal investigation into the fatal officer-involved shooting death of Mr. Brandon Tate-Brown once it became clear in 2015 that the officer lied about the encounter and the deceased wasn’t reaching into his car for a gun – confirmed our stance in 2013 would prove to forever be etched on the right side of history.
Now, in the aftermath of the craziness bought on by a federal indictment, issuing statements for Mr. Williams to resign is the popular thing to do – although there are still some legacy civil rights organizations here that haven’t done so, like the NAACP, the Philadelphia Urban League and the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity – but it’s also the laziest. It doesn’t demand a sacrifice of much time, requires minimal sweat equity, if any at all, and avoids confrontation with the sometimes barbaric bureaucracy.
A malfeasance of this magnitude by the City’s top law enforcement officer – defraud a nursing home, accepting cars, trips, accessories and money in returns for favors – requires a response from the public that’s somewhat equal in weight, for if not, the message sent about Philadelphia is the same it was in 1903 when Mr. Lincoln Steffens wrote ‘Philadelphia: Corrupt and Contented.’
An excerpt of the aforementioned literature reads:
“All our municipal governments are more or less bad, and all our people are optimist. Philadelphia is simply the most corrupt and the most contended.”
Here, in Philadelphia, exists a city where one is likely to be more publicly distressed about an improperly cooked and dressed cheesesteaks than they are about the improper use of their tax dollars and institutions. Here, in Philadelphia, exist a public official, who already admitted to accepting gifts and not reporting it, yet he continues to draw a check from taxpayers all the while casting reasonable doubt, suspicion and hypocrisy on every case introduced to the DA’s office.
Removing Mr. Williams alone won’t re-establish confidence in the DA’s office, but the process of re-establishing confidence in the DA’s office can’t begin until Mr. Williams is removed. Thus, it’s the responsibility of the City, not a handful of familiar faces who’ve made the protest circuit their second home, to force the removal.
The reputation as a corrupt city will take time to reverse, but the contented label we can shed right away with heavy dosages of outrage. For generations benefit not from indifference, they only suffer.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™
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Photo courtesy of the author.