In Philly, wide-ranging police reforms submitted in the year following Ferguson’s unrest.
During a conversation on race and policing months ago with Democratic nominee for Mayor of Philadelphia, Mr. Jim Kenney, there were no cameras around except for mine, which wasn’t on, and there were no spectators, only his political aide, and a community activist who had organized a forum for Mr. Kenney to take place later in the evening.
That level of intimacy, just the four of us, created a space for candor.
The honest concerns expressed then by Mr. Kenney, who suggested that a Mayor can’t govern a city like Philadelphia without thinking about race and racial tensions, mirror the results of a POLITICO Magazine Mayors’ Survey released today which shows that the leaders of America’s cities have serious concerns about race relations, minority communities, and policing issues.
According to POLITICO Magazine:
“Fully nine out of 10 mayors surveyed expressed concern about the state of race relations and police in their city, with nearly a third describing themselves as “deeply concerned” about race and policing in their cities.”
Since the uprising in Ferguson, many solutions to easing tensions and improving policing have been put forth by both laymen and practitioners. But according to POLITICO MAGAZINE, “experts have suggested that the most fundamental improvement departments can adopt still remains the simplest: creating a police force that resembles the citizens it’s sworn to protect.”
The aforementioned solution, according to Mr. Kelvyn Anderson, Executive Director, Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission, is “a worthy goal and it helps, but it won’t solve everything.”
The answer, says Mr. Anderson, isn’t “either or,” but rather “both and.”
In other words, in addition to diversifying police forces, there needs to be a change in the culture of policing.
Mr. Kenney, who will more than likely be Philadelphia’s next Mayor, expressed his dissatisfaction with the lack of people of color graduating from the police academy at a Mayor’s Forum co-organized by Techbook Online, though he’s rarely, if at all, spoken about the perceived anti-community, pro-brutality culture of policing that sparked uprisings in Ferguson, Baltimore and even in Philadelphia.
In contrast, Reverend Mark Tyler, a black man who has been a visible face on the ground at anti-police violence protest, has spoken more about changing the culture of policing and federal intervention than the color of the officers enforcing the law.
In my last conversation with Rev. Tyler, he stressed that the most immediate action that could ease tensions and improve relations is having independent investigators oversee any all cases of fatal officer-involved shootings of African-Americans.
The reverend’s sentiments are inspired by the murder of Mr. Brandon Tate-Brown by a Philadelphia police officer and the refusal of the District Attorney to prosecute the shooter, despite an admission from the Philadelphia Police Department that Mr. Tate-Brown wasn’t reaching for a gun when he was killed as the officer originally stated.
Mr. Tate-Brown’s cousin, Mr. Asa Khalif, who has also been a visible face on the ground at protest and who was even arrested in March after a physical confrontation with Philadelphia police officers, has said numerous time that before any mending of tensions can begin, meaningful consequences, like jail time, need to be leveled against “killer cops.”
Despite disagreements among citizens and officials on solutions, reforms to policing in Philadelphia are underway, as per reports from the Department of Justice and the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
Mayor Michael Nutter, who was among the city leaders who participated in POLITICO Magazine’s survey, established a board in April to oversee the reforms at the police department, though, as Rev. Tyler routinely points out, the activists community, more specifically, those who’ve been visible on the ground participating in #BlackLivesMatter protests, marches and rallies, haven’t been included.
“If they wanted a real committee that was going to do something, they would’ve had folks from #BlackLivesMatter, folks from P.O.W.E.R, folks who’ve been in the street agitating and demanding results,” said Rev. Tyler, “But instead, they kept the entire activists community off that committee because they didn’t want anything to be challenged.”
Though not among the more familiar police reforms, a call for an overhaul to the arbitration system – the process in which cops who’ve been fired from the department can seek due process and potentially get their jobs back – has been floating around the streets.
Mr. Greg Brinkey, a former correctional officer turned private investigator, has been the loudest voice in the arbitration reform debate.
Mr. Brinkey argues, and Mr. Anderson agrees, that the current arbitration process undermines the authority of the Police Chief and enables too many officers with shady records to rejoin the force after being dismissed.
During that intimate conversation with Mr. Kenney, things got a little too honest when he admitted he doesn’t see a major change coming to the arbitration process in the near future.
In contrast, one of Mr. Kenney’s challengers at that time for the Democratic nominee, Mr. Doug Oliver, said at #TransparencyNow that though a Mayor can’t dissolve the arbitration process with the stroke of a pen, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t fight to change it.
Mr. Oliver, a former executive at Philadelphia Gas Works, said a Mayor should seek to negotiate reforms to the arbitration process by conceding on wages and health care to get work rule changes.
A new Mayor in January will inherit these old problems, but, as luck would have it, there’s new and unprecedented attention on these issues. It seems the challenge for the city’s incoming chief executive won’t be finding a solution, but rather vetting and analyzing the many already put forth and balancing the public will with the agenda of the bureaucracy.
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Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™