A call to go beyond racism

Hate speech from armed government employees endangers us all.

file photo: Philadelphia Police at a crime scene on Nov. 19, 2018. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

file photo: Philadelphia Police at a crime scene on Nov. 19, 2018. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

After the Plain View Project released data on more than 1,100 racist and otherwise offensive Facebook posts from hundreds of Philadelphia police officers, a man called my radio show and posed a question. Why, he asked, do African Americans keep talking about it rather than trying to address the issue head on?

I paused for a moment, realizing that he was right, and it was then that I knew the community would have to do something beyond complaining.

That’s why this Friday at 12 p.m., I’ve called on community members to convene at Police Headquarters at 8th and Race streets for a protest. Our demands will be simple: Remove the 330 officers from street duty, thoroughly investigate each one of them, fire those that should no longer be on the force, and when the investigation is complete, charge those whose actions rose to the level of criminal activity.

Hate speech from armed government employees endangers us all. And 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.

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One cop allegedly published a picture of a skeleton wrapped in a flag with the words, “Death to Islam.” And in describing what happens when he makes arrests, Officer Robert Oakes allegedly posted, “these are your f-ing Miranda rights: 1. You have the right to sh-t the f–k up…..anything you say will cause me to f—-ng throat punch you ….”

There were more than 1,100 other posts and comments — many of them depicting African Americans, protesters, and others as animals who deserve brutal treatment. But one comment, written in response to the police killing of a 17-year-old suspect who was allegedly wrestling for an officer’s gun, was particularly haunting.

“Mess with the bull you get the horns,” former Philadelphia Police officer James Snell allegedly said in a comment. “Well done…”

I asked lawyer Emily Baker White, executive director of the Plain View Project, what she hoped police and communities would take away from reading these kinds of disturbing Facebook posts.

“That this is a cultural problem that requires cultural change,” she said. “We need to be able to trust that police will fulfill their duty to prevent discrimination and violence, not promote it.”

I agree, and that’s why this Friday, I’m joining with social justice organizations like POWER — Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild, along with the Philadelphia NAACP, media organizations like WURD Radio and others to lead the Rally for Justice.

Our goal is attainable. But more than that, it’s right.

We want cultural change in policing. That means every cadet who enters the academy must know that racism is unacceptable. That means protecting every citizen must be the first order of business. That means police who engage in bigotry must face decisive justice.

Police can’t effectively patrol my community if they hate me. Police can’t protect and serve me if they hate me. And they certainly shouldn’t have taxpayer-funded weapons if they hate me.

That’s why Facebook posts that demonstrate hate can’t be tolerated, and that’s why we have to stand up together to demand change.

We demand a change in the system that allows people of color to be randomly stopped and frisked. We demand a change in the system that allows only 6 in 10 murders to be solved. We demand a change in the system that allows 5% of the cops to control 100% of the narrative.

I’m calling on Philadelphia to stand with me this Friday at 12 p.m. to rally for justice. It’s time for us to go beyond identifying racism. We must come together to defeat it.

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