The Delaware County Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration, or CADBI-Delco, protested Thursday in front of the county courthouse in Media, demanding that District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer immediately address the perceived failures of his office or “Hit the road, Jack.”
Dana Lomax-Williams, the president of CADBI-Delco, cited her time while incarcerated as a period in which she changed her mindset to be “a voice for the voiceless.” In an interview with WHYY News, she said that she feels “abandoned.”
“The reason for our direct actions today is to bring awareness to the community that Jack Stollsteimer … is not a man of his word,” Lomax-Williams said.
Unfulfilled campaign promises, a lack of communication with concerned constituents, and Stollsteimer’s handling of the police shooting of 8-year-old Fanta Bility last August were just some of the examples highlighted by the protest’s organizers.
The group printed out a report card for Stollsteimer, in which they evaluated his performance on the job.
“He gets an F in communication skills, he gets an F in fulfilling campaign promises, he gets an F in protecting his constituents, and he gets an F in honesty and integrity. His overall grade is an F,” Lomax-Williams said.
The group, which is opposed to life-without-parole sentences, had been an ally of Stollsteimer during his election campaign in 2019. But in 2020, the group unveiled a campaign of its own — “Hit the road, Jack” — to hold the first-term DA accountable for what CADBI-Delco believes is inaction on bail reform and failure to create a conviction integrity unit.
“He promised to do those things. He has done nothing,” Lomax-Williams said. “We’re asking him to respond to the Black and brown community who got him into office — respond to those behind the walls, whose life he has in their hands.”
WHYY News reached out to Stollsteimer’s office, but his spokesperson declined to comment.
A local pastor, Chris Kimmenez, told the crowd of a couple dozen gathered Thursday that the action against the district attorney, whose office is inside the courthouse, wasn’t personal.
“It’s status quo all over again. Don’t call yourself progressive. If you’re doing stuff that’s conservative. Don’t call yourself saying you’re for the people, yet you’re against them when you get in office,” Kimmenez said.
The speakers at Thursday’s protest, dubbed “Behind the Walls Explosion Speak Out” by the group, included John Thompson of the Human Rights Coalition and Latonya Myers, Philadelphia’s first bail navigator with the city’s Defender Association.
“They ask for our support to elect them into office. And the way that they hold us accountable, we also have the right to hold them accountable. Today, I just want to demand that Jack Stollsteimer sit down and talk to his constituents,” Myers said.
Carol Kazeem, a Chester resident and activist who is running for the 159th District State House seat, said, “Even though we’re out here asking for the District Attorney’s Office to take accountability, we also want to make that clear that community engagement is the main important key … that is why the people are out here. Everybody across the table must be listened to, even if it’s not agreed upon. That is the point about being a leader.”
Having observed the inner workings of Delaware County’s criminal justice system up close, Kazeem said, she has seen convictions made from “hearsay.”
She said that she felt as if elected leaders in the county stayed silent while people suffered, and that she was “disturbed” by how the Fanta Bility case — in which three Sharon Hill police officers were eventually charged in January with manslaughter in the child’s August death — was initially handled by Stollsteimer.
“My whole plea today is for everybody to self-evaluate themselves. I’m asking our district attorney to self-evaluate yourself,” Kazeem said. “The District Attorney’s Office must be teachers. They must be listeners. They must be advocates for everybody, and build those relationships to be able to connect with everyone.”
Stollsteimer won the DA seat in November 2019, riding the historic blue wave that washed over Delco and gave Democrats control of the County Council for the first time since the Civil War era. The ticket ran on a platform of massive reforms across all aspects of county government.
Though the all-Democratic County Council members and the Office of the Public Defender have found success accomplishing their agendas in areas such as deprivatization of the George W. Hill Correctional Facility (in which Stollsteimer played a role) and exposing abuse in youth incarceration, Stollsteimer has caught flak and been accused of reneging on promises to effect change in the criminal justice system.
His often-touted Task Force on Criminal Justice Reform included a sub-group on “21st Century Policing” that, as of September 2021, hadn’t met since 2020.
James Jackson, one of the founders of the Testimony Project, is not a member of CADBI-Delco, but he is a supporter of it — and of its leader Lomax-Williams. He believes that she is bringing to light pertinent issues.
“It’s one of those things that if you don’t know, they won’t tell you. And I admire what Dana is doing, because she’s making a difference,” Jackson said in an interview. “[Elected officials] come into the neighborhoods and they want support and they want your vote and everything like that. And they should be held accountable to keep what they said they were going to do. If not, they should be out.”
Stollsteimer is up for reelection in 2023.