Kidnappings, robberies, racist and sexist terror, aerial bombings, murder—there is no crime that the Philadelphia Police Department has not committed against the people of this city. It’d been half a century since Frank Rizzo became police commissioner and later realized his goal, as mayor, of creating a white supremacist, anti-communist army. To this day the PPD is one of the most powerful forces in Philadelphia politics. Now, as the capitalist system hurtles toward another devastating crisis, the cops are taking their war on workers to the next level.
On Aug. 14, while purportedly attempting to serve a warrant, police instigated a standoff with North Philadelphia resident Maurice Hill that led to SWAT teams and hundreds of cops occupying the area around Broad Street and Erie Avenue. Cops claim that Hill shot at the police when they entered his property. After negotiations, Hill surrendered to police.
Hill was not the target of the warrant and wasn’t even in the house that the police were supposed to search. Although police claim Hill shot at them using a high-powered rifle, all six of the officers who were allegedly hit were released from the hospital after less than an hour.
The situation was reminiscent of the 1978 police siege of the MOVE Organization’s house in Powelton Village, when Philly police locked down an entire neighborhood and fired tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition into the residential home. One officer, James Ramp, was hit by friendly fire, and under that pretext the PPD arrested nine MOVE members and framed them for Ramp’s murder. Police then demolished the house and rioted throughout West Philadelphia, arresting and terrorizing the Black community.
Residents of North Philadelphia expressed concern that a similar retaliation by police will be forthcoming in the aftermath of Hill’s arrest.
The Philadelphia police have a known history of instigating gunfights that often end in death when they serve search warrants. Just last year, police broke into the home of Ricardo Giddings while executing a warrant. Giddings assumed that the police, who did not knock on the door or announce themselves, were invaders and shot at them. They returned fire and killed Giddings. The police commissioner called the incident an “all-out tragedy.” No officers were reprimanded or fired. (billypenn.com, Aug. 16)
Just a few days before the unprovoked attack on Hill, cops broke up a block party at Malcolm X Park in West Philadelphia, a predominantly Black community. Despite organizers’ displaying their permit to hold the event, which they paid $140 to secure, at least 100 cops arrived en masse at 8:30 p.m. with their batons at the ready, ramming community members with their bikes to clear everyone from the park a full hour and a half before it closes. (philadelphia.cbslocal.com, Aug. 11)
It is impossible to deny that these are organized, racist attacks on the Black and Brown residents of Philadelphia, especially after the revelation earlier this summer of thousands of racist, misogynist, Islamophobic social media posts made by current Philly police. As Workers World reported at the time, “More than 300 Philadelphia police have been exposed as strident racists, based on social media posts revealed by Plain View Project. … Across the U.S., the project identified problematic postings by about 2,900 current and 600 retired officers.” (June 11)
After the expose, the PPD announced its intention to fire 13 officers, though it is not clear whether they have since been let go. Even if they were fired, they make up less than 4 percent of these 328 avowedly racist cops. Also still employed by the police, despite public backlash, is Ian Hans Lichterman, an officer who proudly displays a Nazi tattoo on his forearm.
No officers were charged or even reprimanded for the killing of Brandon Tate Brown, a 26-year-old Black man who was pulled over in 2014 in Northeast Philly, despite video evidence that directly contradicted the police claim that Brown “struggled” with police. This murder by police was also, according to then District Attorney Seth Williams, another “tragedy.”
Last month, police attempted to arrest a 25-year-old Black man named Bryant “BJ” Henry at the Broad and Olney subway station in North Philly, just four stops away from where the standoff with Hill took place. Witnesses say that the arresting officers used their Taser on Henry, causing him to fall onto the tracks and hit the electrified third rail, killing him instantly.
As bystanders began to confront the police, a witness who recorded the incident had her phone snatched by police. “There was a girl who was taking video. They went over to her and took her phone, and they trashed it,” a witness told the Aug. 1 Philadelphia Inquirer.
Now the PPD is denying everything. They claim that no Taser was deployed and that officers never confiscated or destroyed a witness’s phone. They say Henry fell while trying to flee the police and that body camera footage corroborates their narrative. Unsurprisingly, they refuse to release that footage.
Rampant racism by ‘progressive’ officials
Just one week after the police lynching of Henry, Rutgers University released a study that found getting shot by police to be one of the leading causes of death for Black men in the United States. One of every 1,000 Black men and boys will die at the hands of a police officer in this country. The study also found that police kill Native and Latinx men at a much higher rate than they do white men. Since 2015, 95 people have been killed by police in Pennsylvania alone.
There have also been more than 80 mass shootings in Pennsylvania since 2014, the year Gov. Tom Wolf was elected. But it wasn’t until last week, when Hill, a Black man, defended himself from an attack by police, that Wolf was suddenly inspired to launch a statewide “gun control” initiative. This comes as no surprise to those who know the history of gun control advocacy in the U.S., which is largely a response to the arming and self-defense of oppressed communities by groups like the Black Panthers and Brown Berets.
But law-and-order Democrats like District Attorney Larry Krasner, Wolf and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney consistently defend the white supremacist militia of Frank Rizzo, all the while posing as “progressives.”
Kenney campaigned for mayor on the promise of ending stop-and-frisk. He lied. The unconstitutional, aggressive police tactic that overwhelmingly targets youth of color is still in place.
Kenney promised that the statue of Rizzo, in front of the Municipal Services building across from City Hall, will be taken down. But the statue is still standing. It’s the equivalent of Birmingham, Ala., boasting of a statue to Bull Connor. Rizzo was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan in 1978 when he ran his third campaign for mayor under the slogan “Vote White.”
Kenney is fond of referring to Philadelphia as a “sanctuary city” that is welcoming to immigrants. But Philadelphia’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement office is the most notorious in the entire country, kidnapping and arresting more migrants than any other in the U.S. The Philly ICE office proudly coordinates raids with the PPD.
Krasner, likewise, campaigned as a progressive reformer who would restore the reputation of the corrupt DA’s office. (His predecessor, R. Seth Williams, is currently in prison after being indicted for bribery, corruption and fraud.) Yet Krasner alienated his entire progressive base after blocking new appeal rights for Mumia Abu-Jamal, a journalist and former Black Panther who was framed for the murder of a cop in 1981.
Krasner initially withheld evidence from both the courts and Mumia’s defense attorneys, then released boxes and boxes of previously concealed evidence after, he claims, stumbling across them when looking for office furniture. Only after a massive outcry and organized pressure from Mumia’s supporters did Krasner drop his attempt to block Mumia’s newly granted appellate rights.
Krasner also refuses to turn over video footage of the killing of Khalil Lawal, a 31-year-old man from Arlington, Va., who was shot to death by an off-duty police officer in South Philadelphia in 2018. Lawal’s family say surveillance footage clearly shows that he was accosted by white Detective James Powell, who then shot him 15 times at point-blank range. They want the video released to the public.
When confronted by advocates for the family at the Netroots Nation conference in July, Krasner compared Black Lives Matter activists to U.S. President Donald Trump, claiming their supposed lies reminded him of the “misinformation” coming out of the White House.
Krasner even showed up at the Hill standoff to negotiate personally with Hill and his lawyer. He then bragged to the media that he had offered Hill a “phony” plea bargain to get him to surrender. That means that Krasner—Philadelphia’s top cop and chief prosecutor—will argue a case in which he is personally a witness against a defendant whom he personally gave fraudulent legal advice to.
How then are we able to confront this racist police force when self-styled “progressives” have proven their eagerness to cooperate with the cops? We must look to the victories we have won, always in spite of politicians. Five of the surviving MOVE 9 members are free because of a decades-long pressure campaign against the parole board and the courts. Mumia Abu-Jamal is no longer on death row because tens of thousands of people marched in the streets to stop his execution. When the people of Durham, N.C., wanted to get rid of a racist statue, they didn’t wait for politicians—they tore it down themselves.
The police are servants of capital who catch poor people and lock them in cages. They use their weapons to protect the right of alt-right neo-Nazis to march across town. Cops are at the service of gentrifiers who push Black and Brown people out of their own homes and of elite students in luxury condos who want to feel “safe” as cops trash our streets and harass our family members.
Every day cops walk in and out of Wawa convenience stores to get free coffee and food, while sneering at the homeless people who hold the doors for them and ask for change. Cops humiliate and terrify workers, searching and questioning them on their way home from work or while enjoying a night out. Children don’t know if their parents will be kidnapped by Immigration and Customs Enforcement while they’re at school, and parents stay awake afraid that their kids might get pulled over.
Our goal must be the total abolition of ICE, prisons and the police. The only road to abolition is through socialism—through the reorganization of society based on worker control of production. To protect ourselves from the attack dogs, we must target the people holding their leashes. That means targeting the capitalists.
But likewise, socialism cannot be achieved without a keen awareness that capitalists can only maintain their control through white supremacy, by sowing division among workers along racial, ethnic, religious, gender and sexual lines. That’s what cops are really paid to do.