Robert Wilson was killed on a winter afternoon at a North Philadelphia strip mall, and if that were the end of the story it would be tragic. But it’s not the end. Not by a long shot.
Wilson was a police officer, and the father of two children—ages 1 and nearly 9. It was thoughts of his son, whose birthday was approaching, that brought Wilson to the GameStop at 22nd and Lehigh. But it was thoughts of the rest of us that cost Robert Wilson his life.
When two armed men entered the store and announced a robbery, Wilson engaged them in a gun battle, and even when their bullets wounded him, he fired back, he did his job, and he died standing up for what’s right.
Two brothers, Ramone Williams, 24, and Carlton Hipps, 29, have been charged with murder and related offenses in Wilson’s death. Hipps was on parole for robbery, and his younger brother had a record for assault, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey told reporters after the shooting.
Ramsey had an altogether different description for Wilson, the officer who was shot and killed.
“He was one of the best police officers this city has to offer, period,” Ramsey said. He added that the entire Police Department was “in shock” after the killing of “a very, very brave, heroic individual.”
That’s more than enough to describe Wilson’s heroism, but the discussion must go beyond that. Because just as my community—the black community—is rightly outraged by the pattern of racial injustice that preceded a white police officer killing Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, we should be outraged by the pattern of hopelessness that led two black men to kill a black policeman in Philadelphia.
And just as we fully expect the Justice Department to address the conditions in Ferguson that preceded Brown’s death, our city and community must clean up the conditions that preceded Wilson’s death, as well.
Yes, the men who killed Wilson are responsible for their own actions, and they must face consequences for taking a father from two children, taking a hero from our community, taking a role model from us all. But in truth, the killers aren’t the only ones who will suffer. Their family, like Wilson’s, will also grieve.
So how do we ease the grief of these families? We do so by facing the truth that is breeding so much of the violence.
We can’t continue to defund education when so many of our city’s murderers are high school dropouts. We can’t ignore the fact that we are the poorest large city in America. We can’t pretend that crime and poverty are mutually exclusive. We can’t sit by as mothers and children cry out for lost fathers and sons.
If we hope to stop the violence that took Officer Wilson away from us, we must follow his example and stand up in the face of wrong.
Perhaps then, we can stop the violence before it happens. Perhaps, then, our city can heal.
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