Philadelphia — As protests continue to spread across the U.S. and around the world in response to police brutality and epidemic murders of unarmed Black and Brown people, it is becoming increasingly clear that just trying to reform policing practices won’t be enough.
Rather than taking measures to curb police abuse and harassment, police appear emboldened by grand jury verdicts in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City that failed to indict cops — even when the murders of unarmed Mike Brown and Eric Gardner were caught on videotape for the whole world to witness.
While few arrests were made in association with any of the numerous protests in Philadelphia since the Ferguson grand jury verdict was announced on Nov. 24, police have attempted to intimidate those attending public meetings called to organize responses to the Ferguson and NYC verdicts.
On Dec. 8, Laura Krasovitzky, an organizer with Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation (SOUL) at the University of Pennsylvania, was awoken by a campus police officer and a Philadelphia police detective with “Homeland Security” stenciled on his uniform knocking on her college dorm room door. The police wanted to question her regarding “specific language” she had used in postings on a Facebook group page concerning a Dec. 2 Town Hall meeting organized by the Ferguson to Philly Emergency Response Network.
The police had printed out all the group’s Facebook postings and wanted to know if she or others in the group intended to engage in any sort of violent action. Krasovitzky asked if she was being detained and when told no, refused to give them any information. She immediately notified other activists, a civil rights attorney and the press.
The fact that this happened less than 24 hours after Mayor Michael Nutter and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to talk about developing better relationships between the police and Philadelphia communities, is particularly disgusting and egregious.
During the Dec. 7 “Meet the Press” interview, Ramsey, who was appointed by President Barack Obama to co-chair a special federal task force on policing, stated, “Establishing trust in police is paramount” and “It’s troubling people do not believe there’s fairness in the way police interact with citizens.” (Phillynews.com, Dec, 8) Apparently Ramsey has not taken a good look at his own department.
On Dec. 2, police showed up with several cop cars, bicycle cops and Civil Affairs officers outside the Town Hall gathering at Calvary Church in West Philadelphia that was the subject of the postings they showed Krasovitzky. Organizers also suspected that there were undercover police in the hall where over 400 people had gathered to strategize about next steps.
Around 9 p.m., one of the Civil Affairs officers stationed outside entered the hall to ask when the meeting would be over. He was told it was none of his business. The next day the church got a call from the police complaining about the meeting and baited the organizers, calling them communists.
On Dec. 4, an indoor youth meeting in North Philadelphia organized by People Utilizing Real Power (PURP) was also harassed by the cops amassing outside. One young African-American organizer was followed home by police.
This type of police and state harassment — whether by local, state, federal or even private cops — is a softer form of police brutality, but it can be just as dangerous if allowed to silence or push back the movement. It is also not new.
This fall, police with “Homeland Security” on their uniforms were openly visible at pro-Palestine demos. Philadelphia police have never let up on their efforts to silence Mumia Abu-Jamal and helped push the Revictimization Relief Act passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature in October. Let’s never forget that Philadelphia is the city that dropped a bomb on the MOVE organization in 1985, murdering 11 men, women and children.
As increasing numbers of young activists, many new to the movement, enter the fight against police brutality, they are likely to confront intensified police harassment. The movement needs to prepare for this.
One thing is certain. Following the grand jury verdicts for Mike Brown and Eric Gardner — if the police try to harass organizers of protests around police brutality — it shows that these protests have touched a nerve and the growing movement is having an impact.