Philadelphia People’s Tribunal exposes police brutality
Published Jan 20, 2011 9:40 PM
In a fitting commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, a
People’s Tribunal Against Police Brutality and Misconduct was held at the
Songhai City Cultural Center in north Philadelphia on Jan. 15. Called by the
Askia Coalition Against Police Brutality, the tribunal gave voice to community
residents who have been victims of police brutality and misconduct and
documented cases of police brutality for legal actions against the police
Coalition member Gabriel Bryant said, “King’s legacy has been
turned into a service day, when his real legacy was about protest. ...
Forty-three years later there is still no recourse for the people as far as
state repression is concerned.”
Police brutality and corruption are rampant in Philadelphia. Since early 2009,
11 officers have been arrested on charges including murder, rape and drug
dealing. They are among 51 police officers fired for misconduct since May 2010.
Brutal beatings and assaults by Philadelphia police continue particularly in
African-American and Latino/a neighborhoods.
The Askia Coalition was formed in response to one bloody incident. On Sept. 3,
while waiting to pick up food outside a west Philadelphia restaurant, Askia
Sabur, an unarmed 29-year-old Black man, was brutally assaulted by several
Philadelphia police. He reports that as he sat calmly on the sidewalk
repeatedly telling the police that he didn’t do anything, police cuffed
his hands, put him in a chokehold and struck him at least nine times with a
metal baton. One officer drew his gun, threatening onlookers who were yelling
for police to stop beating Sabur.
This incident might have ended as another buried statistic except that
Sabur’s beating was caught on cell phone videos. He is still recovering
from back problems, a broken arm and head trauma from a deep gash that required
six staples. Two of the officers involved have been the subject of multiple
civilian complaints over the last five years. Despite this and the images
captured of the incident, Sabur was charged with two counts of aggravated
assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment and resisting arrest.
Chilling testimony shows extensive police brutality
A tribunal highlight was testimony by Abdus Sabur, Askia Sabur’s father,
who described his own first encounter with police brutality in the early 1950s
when police came to his house looking for his uncle. “I was a little boy,
but I got a broom and I wanted to fight those people coming into my
house,” he said.
Abdus Sabur also reported about police retaliation and harassment of other
family members who organized community protests after Askia’s beating. He
said that on Oct. 26, police punched and kicked Tanya Yates, Askia’s
cousin, after kicking in the door of her grandfather’s house. Police
claimed they were pursuing a male, but Yates was the only one arrested. Like
Askia, she now faces assault charges.
Other victims of police brutality related their stories to the two-judge panel:
Inez Rogers, Assistant Counsel General of the UNIA-ACL Legal Defense Fund, and
Rochelle Bilal, president of the Guardian Civic League and a member of the
National Black Police Association.
Tahira Pollard described her assault by 22nd District police officer Scott
Ross, who claimed he pulled her over because he saw her talking on her cell
phone. Pollard alleges Ross yelled at her, “I’m tired of you
b-----s,” and then punched her in the head, knocking out a tooth, threw
her cell phone on the ground and ran over it with her car. The incident was
caught on a security camera and witnessed by Pollard’s friend. Pollard
was charged with resisting arrest. She has since learned that 13 other women
filed assault complaints against Ross in the past five months.
Basiymah Mu-Bey, a long-time activist and Mumia supporter, described another
assault on a Black woman by 22nd District police. Mu-Bey reported that on Nov.
27, Niamah Shabazz-Jones parked outside her home to pick up a suitcase, leaving
her 12-year-old in the car to watch over two younger siblings. When
Shabaaz-Jones returned, she saw a white man banging on the car window.
Shabaaz-Jones says that when she approached the man to tell him to keep away
from her children, he grabbed her in a chokehold, pushed her face down to the
ground and only then identified himself as an undercover police officer before
repeatedly tasering her. Shabaaz-Jones could not testify on her own behalf
because she still faces charges.
Diop Olugbala, president of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru
Movement, showed a video of his assault by police during a 2010 protest at
Philadelphia’s City Hall against massive city budget cuts.
Ernest Ford, Haitian activist and Mumia supporter, described how police
targeted and beat him at a west Philadelphia rally against police brutality in
July 2005. Ford was charged with 27 counts, including making terroristic
threats. He was convicted only of simple assault for stepping on a police
officer’s foot as he was being tackled to the ground. Ford has written a
book about his case.
Ramona Africa, sole survivor of the 1985 police fire bombing of the MOVE house
in Philadelphia, described the ongoing murderous police campaign against her
family. She is in the process of bringing a civil suit charging city officials
Annette Dickerson of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York described
an October 2010 report about the New York Police Department’s
Stop-and-Frisk statistics, which revealed a pattern of unconstitutional stops
disproportionately affecting Black and Latino/a New Yorkers. Of almost 600,000
people stopped in 2009, 80 percent were Black or Latino/a. A similar pattern
involving Philadelphia’s Stop-and-Frisk program is the basis for a recent
American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit.
Dickerson stated that the motivation behind these police tactics, usually
directed against people of color, the homeless, residents of public housing and
lesbian/gay/bi/transgender communities, is about control. “The
administration wants to sanitize the city and drive us out,” Dickerson
said. “They don’t care where we go.”
Sobukwe Bambaata, an Askia Coalition member, compared these tactics to the U.S.
military’s scorched earth policies in Iraq: “In Iraq it was for
oil. Here they need to drive us out of areas where million-dollar condominiums
are being built. It’s for profit.”
Conditions in the once predominantly African-American neighborhood around the
Songhai City Cultural Center, long a gentrification target, bear this out.
Blocks of high-priced town houses ring the area, with huge billboards in vacant
lots advertising luxury condos yet to be built.
Bambaata also noted, “If you’re a young Black man in Philadelphia
your chances of getting locked up and thrown into jail are considerably higher
than your chance of getting a job.”
Shasheena Bray announced the Askia Coalition would hold training on community
control over the police in late February. “We have given too much power
to too many people who do not have our interests at heart.” She invited
audience members to attend the coalition’s weekly Monday meetings at 6
p.m. at 5301 Media St. in Philadelphia.
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