Philly protest calls for removal of racist police

June 7 — Black and Brown communities across this city are outraged over the news released by the Plain View Project that 328 Philadelphia police officers were among the more than 1,100 across the U.S. who have posted racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic and otherwise offensive content on Facebook.  

Over 150 people demonstrated today outside Philadelphia police headquarters. Their demands include removing all the officers from active duty, a thorough investigation, firings where appropriate and criminal charges where necessary.  

Rally at police HQ demands end to decades of terror against communities of color.

A Facebook posting from WURD Radio calling for the protest noted: “These officers’ continued presence on Philadelphia streets endangers us all.”  Columnist and WURD commentator Solomon Jones, an initiator of the event, wrote: “If the comprehensive list of Facebook posts collected by the Plain View Project is to be believed, these officers engaged in hate speech, in clear violation of departmental social media policy.” (Philly.com, June 5)

To date, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross has taken weapons from 10 officers identified in the study and put them on desk duty.  However, speaker after speaker at the protest said this was far from enough. Temple University professor Dr. Aaron Smith called for all 328 officers to be taken off the streets. The crowd responded, “Off the streets now!” Others chimed in that desk duty amounts to “paid vacation,” and the officers should be “Off the payroll now!”

Recently exonerated because of police misconduct after nearly 13 years’ imprisonment, Hassan Bennett called for stronger measures. “The culture of racism inside the police department, the ‘code of blue silence,’ has got to end.  Desk duty is not enough. Over 300 cops are involved. Do they have that many desks?” When Bennett called for freedom for all prisoners in jail because of police misconduct, some in the crowd called out, “Free Mumia! Free the MOVE 9!”

Long history of racist police brutality

Smith and other speakers cited continuing evidence of the long-standing climate of police brutality and abuse in Philadelphia.  The Rev. Gregory Holston with POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild), an endorser of the event, recounted some of the racist history of the Philadelphia Police Department.

In 1970, under Commissioner Frank Rizzo, police raided the headquarters of the Black Panther Party, forcing members to strip naked and lie face down on the sidewalk.  A few years earlier, in 1967, police had brutally beaten high school students, including a young Mumia Abu-Jamal, who were protesting racist and oppressive conditions in Philadelphia schools.

In 1985 Philadelphia police destroyed an entire neighborhood when they attacked the MOVE organization. Using a helicopter to drop two bombs, they burned down 62 houses and murdered 11 men, women and children.  

Some of these same officers had directly participated in the frame-up of Mumia.

Holston, Smith and others called for the removal of a controversial statue of former Mayor Frank Rizzo that stands as an affront to the city’s Black and oppressed communities.

One speaker, wearing a T-shirt reading “What would Malcolm X do?” reminded the crowd that Malcolm galvanized his community when he stood outside a police precinct to raise people’s consciousness.  “Malcolm said ‘the power of the people is greater than the people in power.’” Criticizing Philadelphia Mayor James Kenney, who ran on a plank to end “stop and frisk,” but retains the repressive, racist program four years later, he concluded: “We need to ask Kenney, ‘Which side are you on?’ ”

In response to the current scandal, Kenney demonstrated his disconnect from Philadelphia’s oppressed communities when he chose to repeat Fraternal Order of Police claims that the officers involved are “just a few bad apples” and “just a handful of the over 7,000-member force.” Kenney totally ignored the climate of racism and sexism in the PPD that even a Department of Justice investigation had unveiled shortly after he took office in 2015.

A Workers.org sign at today’s protest countered this. It read: “No good cops in a racist, sexist system!”  Another Workers.org sign called for the abolition of the police.

(WW Photo: Joe Piette)

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