Philadelphia Mayor Mr. Jim Kenney, who as a City Councilman in 2014 decriminalized marijuana due to the racial disparity in arrests, finds himself in a predicament due to a pop-up weed party in Center City that puts at odds his core message of equity for all neighborhoods with the reality of a system of governance that has traditionally and presently upholds white privilege.
Unlike Mr. Kenney’s immediate predecessor, a black former City Councilman who overtime seemingly favored whiteness and appeared fully assimilated into the dominant culture and resigned from the communities oppressed by it, the liberal White Mayor knows and admits the system isn’t, and hasn’t always been, fair and that black and brown people have been, and still are, excluded from the mainstream; which makes the Administration’s allowance of, or its indifference to, a largely non-black pop-up weed party last week in Center City Philadelphia, and the Mayor’s admission to me that other neighborhoods shouldn’t readily have the expectation of organizing a similar gathering, incongruous with his political platform.
Philosophically, of course, Mr. Kenney – who last week appointed me and 27 others to a Commission that’ll advise him on policy aimed at increasing the quality of life for black men in Philadelphia – believes “people should have the same right” as their neighbors to engage in a particular activity, but as it regards smoking weed in public without being fined by police, the Mayor in an exclusive interview with Techbook Online said: “I can’t honestly tell you that’s the case.”
Committed to further conversation on the issue is the Mayor, but, honestly, the dialogue is bigger than who smokes when and where, rather it’s about how we address perceived or actualized white privilege: Do we, as a City, intentionally dismantle it and work towards equity and parity; or, do we, as a City, admit it exist but retreat from the hard work because it’s viewed as insurmountable?
To be clear, though a number of black folks attended the pop-up weed party at Eakins Oval, it makes the event, particularly given its location, nonetheless a result of white privilege. Moreover, the pot party is a byproduct of an unmitigated, white supremacist culture here that mainstreams such exclusive traditions like the Philadelphia Mummers Parade, where a majority of non-black spectators are permitted to, bothered not by police, engage in public lewdness, ethic intimidation, public intoxication and disorderly conduct, all acts which, more often than not in a black neighborhood, are punishable by, at the very least, a citation.
Mayor Kenney, a former Mummer, when I asked about the unequal treatment under the law on New Years Day, said the annual parade is a big event, which is hard to police, and as long its spectators aren’t overtly reckless, then Philadelphia police officers, as they did last week at the pop-up pot party, stand down.
Lt. John Stanford of the Philadelphia Police Department today said the somewhat hands-off approach at the Mummers Parade is more about the event size and less about the type of people there.
The department doesn’t have the manpower to address minor infractions at large events like they would on a regular day-to-day basis, said the Lieutenant, who pointed to Jay-Z’s ‘Made in America,’ where there was “a lot of weed smoking,” as an example.
“A lot more people” will get away with minor crimes “at larger events,” said the Lieutenant, who, as a general rule and despite his previous assertion, said he believes there should be equal treatment across the board, adding “what’s good for one is good for all.”
The Lieutenant, when asked about the pop-up weed party, said he’s of the opinion that if it was permitted in Center City, than it should be allowed elsewhere.
As to why fines weren’t issued to the 300 or so individuals last week who broke the law, Lt. Stanford, not greatly familiarized with the event, said he would look into why officers stood down.
The Mayor said the City is currently evolving in how it deals with de-criminalizing the “possession and consumption” of marijuana. I am of the opinion that the Mayor and the City should be evolving towards full legalization, and not simply for the reasons of equity but, too, economics. Furthermore, for what good would it do, and how would it be rationalized, to keep marijuana as an illegal substance while attempting to accommodate smokers who want to have pop-up weed parties without consequence in various sections of the City?
According to a 2016 PRRI poll, 63% of Americans (a total of 2,010 surveyed) support marijuana legalization. And in Pennsylvania, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll, 88% of Pennsylvanians (a total of 1,036 surveyed) favor legalizing medical marijuana and 51% support full legalization for adults. To boot, Pennsylvania State Representative Jordan Harris, who resides in South Philadelphia, in June began looking for co-sponsors for legislation, under the guise of a budget crisis and needing to provide “much needed tax revenue,” that would legalize marijuana for recreational use.
Mayor Kenney should be among city officials to back Rep Harris’ call while also initiating a citywide survey of attitudes towards marijuana legislation. The conversation around marijuana in Philadelphia shouldn’t be whether or not a community can expect to consume marijuana in public absent of police intrusion like those who gathered at Eakins Oval last week, but rather WHEN such a privilege will be granted indefinitely not just to the 300 or so individuals who populated the weed party, but to those communities who if they mimicked what they saw their neighbors do, would be approached by police in a grossly different manner.
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.