Philadelphia journalists favor disclosing the name of police officers who conduct stop-and-frisk without reasonable suspicion.
A lengthy but informative read about fatal shootings by police and how many of those officers’ names aren’t disclosed to the public appeared in the Washington Post on March 31st, 2016. The article, authored by numerous staffers of the publication owned by Amazon’s CEO Mr. Jeff Bazos, revealed that of the 990 Americans killed by police in 2015, 210 officers have not been publicly identified by their departments. Since 2014 – which was the year when Mr. Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in Ferguson, Missouri, shot and killed Mr. Michael Brown, a black teenager who was unarmed at the time of his death – transparency around officer-involved shootings became a ubiquitous American political narrative, as did the way African-Americans are (mis)treated by police.
Post-Ferguson, when an (unarmed) citizen – more often than not one who’s black or brown – is killed by police, there’s almost always scrutiny from the public and a demand for the shooter’s name, though not every unfortunate instance means criminality on behalf of the officer. Less ambiguous in legality, however, is when an officer, without reasonable suspicion, stops an individual who then ends up being frisked by said officer. Simply stopping someone – more often than not someone who’s black or brown – arbitrarily and subjecting them to a search of their person is both illegal and done often in Philadelphia, yet no resounding narrative of releasing officers name who engage in this illegal practice exist.
Unlike a fatal officer-involved shooting, where the police officer(s) could have been acting in self-defense and had only seconds to mount an offense, the practice of stop-and-frisk or pedestrian stops – not every police-citizen encounter on the street results in a search – should succeed tactical observations that first establishes reasonable suspicion or, as some have called for in the wake of data which show the policing practice being severely abused in Philadelphia, probable cause. Whereas, it’s safe to assume an officer isn’t under life-or-death pressure when stopping an individual on the street, and considering there’s enough time for the officer to weigh factors and make a judgment, the fact that so many stops are done illegally should rendered a call for transparency equal, or greater than, the one that exist regarding fatal shootings, particularly because, in Philadelphia at least, stops-and-frisks occur at a much greater frequency than fatal officer-involved shootings.
According to the Mayor of Philadelphia, the Police Commissioner and the City Solicitor, a directive for progressive discipline as it relates to stop-and-frisk now exist: re-training first, counseling second and maybe a suspension. So, at what point on this continuum should the names be released? If Ms. Denise Clay, the former president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, could decide, it would happen after the first malfeasance.
“If an officer is violating the rules, the public has a right to know that,” Ms. Clay, a proofreader for The Philadelphia Sunday Sun who believes in “total transparency,” said to Techbook Online by phone in an interview.
Beyond just releasing the names of officers who violate the constitutional rights of Philadelphians, Ms. Clay, an Emmy Award-winning journalist who’s seeking her Master’s Degree so she can teach journalism, said there should be “some sort of database the public can access” that displays both the good cops and the troubled ones. Whether an idea like that would ever fly in a City like Philadelphia remains to be seen, but the Mayor, Mr. Jim Kenney, has expressed his desire to be transparent, particularly as it relates to policing. Both in public and behind closed doors, Mr. Kenney has said he doesn’t support a bill championed by the local police union that would keep private the names of officers involved in shooting unless they were charged with a crime. And after the uprising in Chicago following the death of Mr. Laquan McDonald, Mr. Kenney took note of the tension’s root cause: hiding things is never good, he told me.
Mr. Kenney, since announcing his candidacy for Mayor, has spoken openly about policing, more specifically, stop-and-frisk. His son has never been stopped-and-frisked, which Mr. Kenney recognizes as a privilege largely unknown to African-Americans, who constitute a majority of all persons frisked in Philadelphia in the first half of 2015. Mr. Kenney, who won the election with more than 80 percent of the vote, is under immense pressure to address stop-and-frisk, particularly because one of his campaign promises was to end the practice, which some voters perceived to have meant never again would a stop occur, while others, understanding the Terry v. Ohio Supreme Court ruling grants officers the right to stop citizens based on reasonable suspicion, perceived it to mean that the racial disparities, frequency, and illegalities of stops would be mitigated.
Though the future of stop-and-frisk in Philadelphia can be considered by some as ambiguous, the practice, and its negative impact, is being discussed in a manner that, in my opinion, is rather unprecedented. Ms. Clay, who believes Mr. Kenney genuinely disapproves of how the practice is utilized and wants to see a dramatic shift, agrees: The fact that stop-and-frisk is being discussed at its current levels is fairly significant, she said. Mr. Kenney and Mr. Richard Ross, the police commissioner, have agreed to an April 29th town hall on the issue of stop-and-frisk. Both men in the past have spoken favorably about transparency in policing, so it shouldn’t be a stretch for them to support naming police officers who perform an illegal stop-and-frisk though it will require the public issuing a work-rule change.
And if issuing a work-rule change seems out of the purview of a Philadelphian, just keep in mind the words spoken by Mr. Kenney on his first day as Mayor-Elect:
“The civilians are in charge of the police, not the police in charge of civilians.”
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™