In the struggle against racist police brutality, winning the smallest victories from the state has taken monumental struggle. On June 9-10, those who have been struggling against killer cops in Philadelphia gained two small, yet important, victories.
The first, the release of details involving the two police officers who killed 26-year-old Brandon Tate-Brown, came after a six-month struggle and dozens of demonstrations. The second, the acquittal of 10 protesters involved in a police Town Hall meeting on March 19, was a crucial step in the struggle against repression of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Philadelphia police have long been known as the most violent, brutal and openly racist of any city in the U.S. Philadelphia, the country’s fifth-largest city, is 45 percent Black and the vast majority of the population are people of color. In 2013, some 185,000 people here lived on less than $10,000 per year (census.gov), while 80 percent of the young people qualify for free lunch based on income guidelines. Philly cops shot nearly 400 people between 2007 and 2013. (U.S. Department of Justice) These same police have a long history of political attacks against Black and working-class liberation movements.
Philadelphia police killed Tate-Brown, a young Black worker at Hertz Rental Cars, after he was stopped for “driving while Black” on Dec. 15. An immediate media smear campaign included lies about how Tate-Brown was driving at night with his headlights off, that he struggled with the officers and that he was reaching for a gun when he was mowed down by police.
Within days, protests led by Tate-Brown’s family and friends marched on the 15th District Police Precinct to demand basic details of the case, including the officers involved, information collected at the scene, witness testimony and the surveillance video. Yet the police released nothing to the family or the public. Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey declared that he would rather protect the safety of the officers than seek accountability and transparency.
On March 19, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced that he would not charge the officers involved in the shooting, nor would he release any more details on the case. Later that day, about 40 protesters from the Coalition for REAL Justice disrupted a Town Hall meeting involving Ramsey and Williams. The activists were met with police brutality and practically a police riot. Ten of them were arrested and became known as the “Lawncrest 10.”
Finally, on June 9, after countless demonstrations and a wrongful death and excessive force lawsuit brought by Tate-Brown’s mother, Tanya Brown-Dickerson, the names of officers Nicholas Carrelli and Heng Dang were revealed, along with video footage of the incident and eyewitness testimony.
Ramsey immediately started backtracking on previous claims about the case. Speaking to the TedEx forum entitled “And Justice for All” on June 11, he said that police often misrepresent the facts when they are released to the public, saying, “The first story is one that usually does not have everything down 100 percent in terms of accuracy.” The police had lied about many of the basic facts, such as that Tate-Brown was pulled over because his headlights were off, when the video clearly shows that they were on.
The issue of his supposed struggle with the police is still questionable, as is where he was shot. The major dispute is whether or not Brandon had a gun in the car.
Brown-Dickerson has consistently challenged every aspect of the case against her son and has called on Ramsey and Williams to be charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice. In an interview, she stated: “They staged a scene. They killed my son for no reason, and that’s a crime. There’s no evidence that Brandon hit anyone. His hands had no marks on them, but he did have scraps on his face and legs from where the officer dragged him. I watched (Officer) Carrelli grab him by the hoodie and jerk him around.” (phillyinfocus.com, June 12)
‘Lawncrest 10’ victorious in court
On June 10, the “Lawncrest 10,” represented by people’s lawyers Michael Coard and Larry Krasner, had their day in court. Charged with disorderly conduct, all 10 decided to fight this out in court in order to beat back the police attack against the movement.
The prosecution’s witness testimony quickly revealed itself to be a complete sham, including that of two cops who were not present for the arrests and a notorious mobster who admitted on the stand that he had a direct connection to organized crime and the police. Furthermore, the state could not prove that protesters had done anything other than engage their supposedly protected freedom of speech.
Coard said the protesters engaged in “noble activism” while the police “overreacted.” Defense lawyer Krasner added that “these 10 people are the reason we know who killed Brandon Tate-Brown.” All 10 were found not guilty.
With these victories, the two struggles — the fight for real justice for victims of racist police brutality, as well as the struggle against police repression of the Black Lives Matter movement — will continue to shake the foundations of Philadelphia for a long time into the future.