Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Show your support

Living or working in Philly can be rough. Crime is not some theoretical political issue to be argued about, but a reality that is lived through.
In 2007 we averaged more than one murder for every day of the year. The thing about murder statistics is that it only counts those who die, it does not tell us how many people actually get shot or stabbed, or just plain beat up.

When the numbers, or rather the chaos, gets to this scale it can be assumed that a portion of both the deaths and the killers, will be cops.

Things have gotten better in the past three years. But not all better.
Last year, in my neighborhood, an officer was killed while responding to a bank robbery. The next day, while the department was still searching for the suspects, a news camera caught 12 officers severely beating a black man they mistook as the robber. Turns out he was not.

No one got fired. I think three were suspended.

Stories of Police beatings are many and come regularly. They don’t do all the dishing, I can recall three times last year where I had to wait for a city long motorcade carrying an officer to his final resting place.
It has gotten long past ridiculous.

Let me tell you a little bit about my neighborhood.
During the day the narrow, short, streets have few parked cars; everyone is at work. In the evening those same streets are lined with panel vans, work trucks, and cop cars. Most of the kids attend catholic school, and most of those kids’ grand parents can be found sitting on a stoop somewhere nearby saying hello to people by name as they walk by. The neighborhood is very stable and nearly all white.

The day the cameras caught the gang of cops beating the suspects in the street, I had a conversation with my next door neighbor. I expressed my disappointment in the officers’ behavior. She did not. I should have known better, her Dad was a cop. She regularly wears a t-shirt in support of the officer who was famously shot by Mummia. I expressed my understanding that theirs is the hardest job there is, along with my feeling that along with the risk comes a responsibility to hold yourself to a higher standard. She did not agree.

We got a flier in our door informing us that someone would be coming along soon to offer us a blue light bulb to use in our porch light to show support for the Police Department. We don’t have a porch light. Most here do and in the evening the streets have a blue glow. There is no doubt where allegiances lie.

Two weeks ago, in our neighborhood, an off duty police officer shot and killed his 21 year old neighbor. There was apparently an altercation at a party in the officer’s home that spilled to the streets. The officer brandished a gun and most of the crowd left. The story goes that the victim stood his ground saying, “you aren’t going to shoot me.”

He did.

The Department is making no statements but the officer is currently on desk duty. An investigation has uncovered multiple past complaints about the officer including him shooting an opossum in the street, and him threatening, with a pulled gun, kids who bullied his 8 year old son.

Now there are orange ribbons everywhere. Our next door neighbor has one. She told us that the ribbons are a show of support for the victim’s family. I see those ribbons on street signs, on the counters at the corner store, and hanging from the porch lights that used to have blue light bulbs.

I don’t really want to talk about the cops here. Who am I to say one thing or the other when I am not the one getting paid far too little to risk my life for people who generally don’t appreciate it? While I have opinions and think right and wrong are not negotiable, I have as much right to give them as advice as I do Donovan McNabb.
I want to talk about the people in my neighborhood.

Why are they supporting the victim this time? Cops shoot people all the time and in the past, when there in controversy, support is without fail, given to the cop.

The difference here is that this time, the kid was someone they know. In the past it was always somewhere and someone else.
Funny how a little familiarity changes one’s perception.
In the past it was almost always just some black kid in the bad part of town, not one of “us”.

I don’t think anyone around here has noticed the irony, or the lesson. Next time a person is shot on the other side of the tracks and the family cries fowl, will we hesitate to screw in the blue bulb?
I doubt it.


Corbie said...

I just had a discussion the other day with a girlfriend. She was irate about some things that had been said and done to someone, pointing out that she felt particularly upset because the victim was 'her friend'. I pointed out that anytime similar things are done to any person, it is someone's friend or mother or sister, etc. It was a good reminder (mostly to myself) that 'other' people, whomever they are, are still 'my' people on some level.

Great post.

field negro said...

Thanks for this story Broh, that's why I love bloggers like you, you put the truth out there without fear.

This story is sad and tragic, and it goes to a deeper problem here in the city of [not so] "Brotherly Love".


uglyblackjohn said...

Aw c'mon brohammas - you see things as right/wrong,
and not Black/white?

(Actually, I think everyone identifies with problems to which they can relate.
For me, race is never the most important issue - only whether something is right or wrong (based on my somewhat limited understaning and perspective).)

The Knickerbockers said...

To completely take this point to another level (and by another, I mean a totally insignificant point compared to yours) I often think about this when I am running.

When I'm running, I'm constantly annoyed at the drivers who don't know how to watch out for people using the road (be it cyclists, pedestrians or runners). Yet when I'm driving, I'm usually annoyed that some runner is trying to use the road that is clearly meant for motor vehicles.

It's the same way we like to twist situations so that we're not in the wrong. Just ask Peter, he'll tell you I can turn pretty much ANYTHING into being his fault. Despite the fact that I might have just done the same thing, he's wrong to do it and I'm always right.

In any case, my heart goes out to the families of the victim and the officer- as both sides are grieving in their own ways.

Anonymous said...

The police are the biggest gang of them all. And nothing more than bullies who misuse the authority they have been given.

lyric said...

It's amazing to me how different things are in different communities. Our sleepy suburb is very safe - uneventful - and the police seem to be well respected and at the same time very respectful.

Of course - I'm not one of the groups that tend to get profiled. I should find out how they feel.

My stomach gets all in knots thinking about the police in your city and wonder how many cities are that way.

It's all a big mess. It could get hopeless. But as with any big problem I remind myself to do what I can do. I can change myself. I can make a difference in the world right where I am. Small and simple things, small kindness can change one person's life. I can't change the entire world but I can make a difference.