Philly’s City Council cares a great deal about a variety of issues, but fatal police shootings don’t appear to be one of them.
Hard to believe it’s been almost a year since Mr. Brandon Tate-Brown, a young black man, was shot and killed during a traffic stop by a Philadelphia police officer while unarmed and fleeing.
And, to think, it’s been more than a year since activists in the nation’s fifth largest city have been organizing to protests unjust police shootings, with the death of Mr. Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, serving as the catalyst.
In a little more than a year’s time span, much has transpired; both in this city and around the country as it relates to achieving justice for black and brown Americans.
There have been monthly, if not weekly, direct actions by Philadelphia activists in the name of Mr. Tate-Brown, not to mention their regularly scheduled meetings on topics related to police shootings, use of force, and racism, among others.
The Department of Justice analyzed the Philadelphia Police Department and issued a report with 48 findings and 98 recommendations, not to mention the Police Commissioner was selected by President Barack Obama to co-chair a national task force focused on improving policing and the institution’s’ relationship with communities.
In New Jersey, activists – most notable among them, Mr. Walter Hudson – have, for almost the same amount of time as those in Philadelphia, been protesting what they perceived is an unjust fatal police shooting: the death of Mr. Jerame Reid during a traffic stop at the hands of Bridgeton police officers. Mr. Hudson has been to Philly several times to support the local’s effort, and they have returned the favor en masse.
In Chester, Mr. Frank McQueen was shot by police so severely that his mother, a North Philadelphia resident named Ms. Del Matthews, said she considered a closed casket. Ms. Matthews has found some comfort by affiliating herself with activists in her city.
In fact, on Mother’s Day this year – the first one she spent without her son – Ms. Matthews told me the support from activists was the boost in spirits she needed, particularly because her Councilman, Mr. Darrell Clarke, and other legislatures have offered her no resource, despite her constant requests.
Throughout the year, beginning in December of 2014, Philadelphia City Council has been criticized by a number of activists for their perceived indifference to the movement that aims to protect black bodies from a system hell bent on destroying them.
Some critics will, and have argued, that citizens’ expectations are too high, and that lawmakers have no obligation to speak out on the heap of dead black bodies with bullets in them from the guns issued to police officers.
Even if that’s true, lawmakers in other cities have set a precedent that makes Philadelphia’s elected officials look like a bunch of paper-pushing, soulless, co-opted, out-of-touch bureaucrats.
For example, on December 1st, 2014, several members of the Congressional Black Caucus condemned the Ferguson shooting and the acquittal of Mr. Darren Wilson, the former Ferguson Police officer who killed Mr. Brown, age 18 at the time of death.
On December 8, 2014, multiple national news outlets reported that members of the New York City Council had blocked traffic to protest a grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer who killed Mr. Eric Garner, a father who often sold loose cigarettes on Staten Island.
And more recently, a Bridgeton City Councilwoman joined Mr. Hudson in his effort to get U.S Attorney Paul Fishmen to investigate the fatal shooting death of Mr. Reid.
Mr. Hudson told me he looks at Philadelphia’s elected officials with shame, as they haven’t put their weight behind efforts to seek justice for Mr. Tate-Brown, or anyone else for that matter.
Mr. Tate-Brown aside, the governing body at City Hall has done little to nothing to mitigate police shootings; ease tensions; comfort grieving families or show support to agitators.
A bureaucrat who disagrees with me is Mr. Kelvyn Anderson, Executive Director, Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission, who says various member of City Council – most notable among them, Mr. Curtis Jones, Jr., who chairs the Public Safety Committee – have been visible at basketball games where officers are interacting with communities in a meaningful way.
That’s true. Mr. Jones, probably more than anyone else on the 17 member council, has touted his efforts to improve police and community relations.
The thing is, though, the #BlackLivesMatter movement nationally, any the local activists who want justice for Mr. Tate-Brown, aren’t that interested in having a better relationship with police or being their friends. Instead, the agitators want systemic change; they want officers who unjustly murder citizens to be held accountable; they want body cameras on officers; rigorous civilian oversight; and an end to racist policies like broken windows policing and stop-and-frisk.
And, whereas, Councilman Jones a year ago pledged to me in an exclusive interview that bolstering the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission was a “political priority” in a post-Ferguson America, yet there’s been no movement on that bill, Philadelphia City Council is more than worthy of scrutiny.
And that’s where Mr. Anderson sort of agrees with me. His agency is finally getting several years worth of officer-involved shooting data from the police department, but they don’t have the infrastructure to handle or process it, thus the need to be an independent, fully-funded and staffed agency is more urgent than ever.
Mr. Anderson has great hope, but very little expectation that City Council will push the bill anytime soon.
“There’s no indication that the bill is moving. We’ve been asking and we’re going to keep calling for it; we’d like to see the bill move forward, but the agitation will have to come from the streets.”
What’s so egregious about City Council members’ indifference towards the movement and, in particular, police shootings, misconduct and brutality, is that it’s an election season – Philly’s General Election is in November.
But politicos aren’t even pretending to care about the election by engaging the most active of citizens, let alone faking an interest in the fastest growing black advocacy movement in recent history.
In my opinion, there’s no excuse for this level of apathy from lawmakers, mainly because the problem is so clearly articulated and visible.
“The gravity of the issues with policing are fairly obvious,” said Mr. Anderson, who told Techbook Online exclusively that calling for a third-party, independent investigation into the death of Mr. Tate-Brown is “something our board needs to consider.”
Even Mr. Anderson, who I disagree with often, has pressured the police department to be transparent when an officer shots and kills a Philadelphian. His agency even considered using their subpoena power to obtain critical information guarded by the police department.
Philadelphia’s City Council cares a great deal about a variety of issues, but fatal police shootings and transparency in its aftermath doesn’t appear to be one of them.
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