The only black candidate campaigning to become Philadelphia’s next District Attorney, Mr. Tariq El-Shabazz – who has an intense personality, is great debater and describes himself as a fighter – is picking his battles wisely.
For example, if it’s a contender of his on the stage aiming to discredit his record, which he argues is full of accounts wherein he pushed-back against the status-quo and used his position to ensure fairness, then Mr. Shabazz becomes aggressive and animated, like a rapper who, feeling slighted by the freestyle lyrics of his counterpart in a cypher, hits back with the type of growl that gives observers pause.
But if it’s local journalists who are aiming to publish hit piece after hit piece on the issue of his personal finances – Mr. El-Shabazz believes the news media blitz, emanating from majority white newsrooms in Philadelphia, is the result of racism and nothing more – then the move is not to attack back, but rather offer up indifference and allow the fighters to implode due to how exhaustively dirty their tactics are and the fact that spectators, hip to the cheap shots, will divert their attention.
“It’s been clear that I’ve been treated unfairly,” Mr. El-Shabazz told me on Tuesday evening outside a Center City church which had just hosted a social-justice focused candidates’ forum.
Even critics of the New York City native, those who won’t vote for him no matter what he says, have disclosed to me that the news media’s agenda is blatant and bias. Mr. El-Shabazz, who speaks with a strong Brooklyn accent, argues that he’s not the only candidate who may have an unflattering tax situation, yet the news media outlets in the City aren’t publishing stories on the finances of his opponents, all whom are non-black.
“I don’t read the media,” Mr. El-Shabazz, once a co-host of a radio program on 900am-WURD, which broadcast Tuesday’s well-attended forum, asserted. “I ignore that stuff,” he added.
Mr. El-Shabazz – who has vowed to, if elected, reject the sentencing of life without parole, end the District Attorney’s controversial civil forfeiture program, decline to prosecute most petty drug offenses, seek diversionary programs whenever possible, support the expansion of pardons and appoint a special prosecutor to investigate police shootings and misconduct – said the local media has been obsessed with his personal life even before he was a declared candidate.
“A week prior to me announcing,” said Mr. El-Shabazz, “the media ran tax stories.”
A former first assistant District Attorney, Mr. El-Shabazz recalled an occasion not long ago when he, then a subordinate of Mr. Seth Williams – the current District Attorney who has been indicted on 23 counts of corruption – at a press conference was unveiling the new conviction review unit and journalists, instead of focusing on the issue at hand, only asked questions about Mr. Williams receiving gifts and not reporting them.
“Any good work that was done in that office was overshadowed by the salacious news happening with Seth Williams,” Mr. El-Shabazz said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with Techbook Online.
The proximity of Mr. El-Shabazz to Mr. Williams – a disgraced politician who is alleged to, among other things, have stolen money from his ailing mother to pay his bills – has been troubling for some voters I’ve spoken to. They, rightly or wrongly, believe Mr. El-Shabazz is nothing more than a reincarnation of Mr. Williams, the first African-American Philadelphia District Attorney who, in a city of over a million people, was elected with roughly 45,000 votes.
As expected, Mr. El-Shabazz shot that narrative down, saying that not only is he a different person from Mr. Williams, but that he has before “talked to Seth when he wasn’t doing what he was suppose to do.”
Mr. Williams in 2015 sued Pennsylvania Governor Mr. Tom Wolf over his death penalty moratorium, saying in a statement then: “Our constitution does not allow the governor to satisfy his own personal opinions by halting a capital murderer’s sentence.” Mr. El-Shabazz, one of only two candidates among the cohort who has vowed to never seek the death penalty, said he has never supported the practice and as a first assistant District Attorney declined to sign at least six death warrants.
Despite once being apart of the District Attorney’s office, Mr. El-Shabazz on Tuesday was critical of it, remarking several times about the lack of diversity there and making the case for how the diversification of personnel could result in more intelligent decision making by individuals who understand the circumstances of those encountering the system. In my brief conversation with him, Mr. El-Shabazz painted himself as a reformer whose good intentions at the Center City Philadelphia government office went in vain.
“I thought I was coming in to resurrect, save, bring real reform, and get people out of there… but it turned out to be something different.”
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Photo courtesy of the author.