Ever since Philadelphia Magazine published a lengthy, and some say scathingly, critical piece on the state of race relations in the city. The blow-back has been steady and unwavering.
The piece titled “Being White in Philly” has created national and international headlines, touched off a storm of responses from the African-American community, legislative and business leaders, and has left many people speculating if ultimately the tourism and hospitality industries might experience a drop in numbers.
“That depends on what Philadelphia Magazine does in terms of moving forward and I see them moving forward on this issue,” said Shalimar Blakely, executive director of the African American Chamber of Commerce. Blakely spoke with The Philadelphia Tribune following a closed meeting with representatives from Philadelphia Magazine and she said she was encouraged by their response to the Chamber’s efforts to work with them in building not just a more diverse editorial staff but economic opportunities for minority owned businesses.
“We weren’t just meeting about what was published, although that certainly was one of our concerns,” she said. “But the Chamber is looking for opportunities for Black-owned businesses and employment. We wanted to find our how our members can take advantage of information regarding contracts so it was mainly about diversity in that regard. We do need to put some diversity in their magazine and there was a real willingness on their part to work with us in meeting those goals.”
A. Bruce Crawley, president and principal of Millennium 3 Management said city officials should be concerned over a potential negative impact based from the article.
“Issues like this can have a negative impact on tourism in any major city,” he said.
Crawley is a member of the executive committee of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau and has been a long-time fixture in the city’s business community. “We know racial issues like this can hurt tourism as in the situation a few years ago in Miami, Florida and this is something we should be tracking.”
In 1980 race riots left 18 people dead, injured 400 others and left behind $100 million in property damage in the predominantly black Liberty City district.
Five times in ten years Miami has been subjected to violence sparked by unresolved racial issues. Philadelphia has been spared such violence but, as the “Being White in Philly” piece points out, there is a great deal of racial polarization, both perceived and literal. The publishers of Philadelphia Magazine printed its March edition with two covers; one for its subscribers and the other for visitors who might pick up the publication.
“Moreover, compounding the sin of having allowed this article to be published in the magazine — and a cover story no less — the magazine cynically and hypocritically distributed its Marc issue with two different covers: reportedly one, for its subscribers, with the provocative cover story; the other with an attractive woman of color on its cover, for Philadelphia hotel guests and visitors,” wrote Mayor Michael Nutter in a blistering letter sent to Rue Landau, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission on March 13.
Nutter said rather than rage against the “ignorance reflected in the uninformed, ill-advised, ill-considered lament” that a more comprehensive evaluation of racial issues in the city should be examined.
City Councilman Curtis Jones said he doesn’t believe the article will affect tourism and hospitality at all.
“No, I really don’t. I respect the opinions and thoughts of those who do but I don’t see this affecting our tourism industry,” he said. “The Philly magazine piece demonstrates an attempt for some people to take back their 1960 point of view if you know what I mean. In City Council we represent diverse, ethnically and multi-racial districts. There are divisions but nowhere nearly as pronounced as reflected in that article. What I hear from people who visit our city is conversation about our historical sites, our parks and restaurants and our sports teams. Are there still racial issues to be dealt with? Yes, no question about it but Barack Obama got elected to a second term and I think Mayor Nutter is more respected in white communities by comparison because of where he stands on the issues. We’re not a monolithic Black and White city any more. It’s less about race and more about class.”
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown echoed Jones’ remarks.
“I’ve given this a lot of thought and I think we really must respect First Amendment rights,” she said. “People can say and think whatever they want and thank God we live in a nation where that’s the law. We mustn’t condemn someone for that. Just because someone has an opinion doesn’t make that reality and fortunately that article doesn’t reflect the reality of this city. When people come to our city they come for the rich history and our world class art museums. They come for the entertainment. The officials at our Convention Center have worked hard to raise our city’s profile and tourism is growing in this town. We have 11 more visitors coming into Philadelphia every year. So while readership at Philadelphia Magazine had decline by 10 percent, tourism in Philadelphia is growing.”
Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senator Bob Casey, a longtime supporter of Second Amendment rights who was highly rated by the National Rifle Association, said last week that he now favors two gun control bills expected to be introduced soon.
Casey, who opposed the ten-year assault weapons ban that was allowed to expire in 2004, said on Wednesday that he was haunted by the murders committed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut. He said he would support a ban on assault weapons and another bill banning high capacity magazines.
“If those two bills come before the Senate, I’ll vote for both,” Casey said. “I just believe that in light of what's happened, in light of measures we can take to lessen the chances that will happen [again], that these are two steps we can take.
“I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, and believe in the right of citizens to own guns for their own protection as well as for hunting, recreation, and collection. Nonetheless, after reflecting on the power of the weapon and the number of bullets that hit each child in Sandy Hook, the reinstatement of a ban on military-style weapons and high capacity magazines are two common-sense steps that I support. Moving forward, my hope is that Republicans and Democrats will come together and act in response to this great tragedy. I remain optimistic that the sense of urgency we all felt after Sandy Hook will not be diminished by time or any partisan battles.”
Other pro-gun lawmakers who have shifted their position are Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). All have recently stated they would support new gun control measures.
Reid stated that his proposal includes language in support of universal background checks – a proposal that has had stiff opposition in the pro-gun camp. Reid said he would stand behind President Barack Obama’s provisions that were called for in his State of the Union Address.
“I will start the process of bringing a bill to reduce gun violence to the Senate floor. This bill will include the provisions on background checks, school safety and gun trafficking reported by the Judiciary Committee,” Reid said in a press release issued on March 21. “I hope negotiations will continue over the upcoming break to reach a bipartisan compromise on background checks, and I am hopeful that they will succeed. If a compromise is reached, I am open to including it in the base bill. But I want to be clear: in order to be effective, any bill that passes the Senate must include background checks. The bill I advance will serve as the basis for opening debate. Once debate begins, I will ensure that a ban on assault weapons, limits to high-capacity magazines, and mental health provisions receive votes, along with other amendments. In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for all of these provisions to receive votes, and I will ensure that they do.”
Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013, a bill that would increase the penalties for straw purchasing from five years to up to 25 years in prison. The measure also makes straw purchasing a federal offense. The Gun Trafficking Prevention Act was introduced by Republican Congressman Patrick Meehan on February 5. Supporters of the measure say it addresses the concerns of law enforcement officers, who said the bill would significantly help reduce gun violence and the concerns of law abiding gun owners who don’t want any infringement on their Second Amendment rights.
“As a former federal prosecutor, I’ve seen firsthand the challenges faced by law enforcement personnel fighting to keep guns out of the hands of criminals,” Meehan said during a press conference. “This legislation will give law enforcement critical tools they need to combat gun violence while protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms.”
Law enforcement authorities say that straw purchasing is a major component driving the excessive gun violence in America’s major cities. In Philadelphia, where over 300 murders were committed last year, close to 90 percent of the homicides were committed by illegally obtained handguns. It is expected that such a law would have a huge impact in cities like Philadelphia, Chicago and Camden, where gun violence has become rampant.
In the State of the City report just released by the Pew Charitable Trust statistics show that in 2012 82 percent of all the homicides committed in Philadelphia were by firearms and four out of five of the victims were African Americans. Law enforcement authorities often state that illegal guns are a major part of the problem.
“Anything that helps reduce straw purchasing will have an impact on gun violence,” said District Attorney Seth Williams. “There were 334 homicides committed in this city last year and not one was committed by a legal gun owner. We have to do all we can to stop straw purchasing. Universal background checks will help us along with mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms. Universal background checking would be a valuable tool to help us keep guns out of the hands of criminals and people with a history of domestic violence and mental health problems.”
A couple that was arrested following a two state car chase were in court for a preliminary hearing on Monday.
Blake Bills, 24, and Shayna Sykes, 23, were charged with a host of offenses. Bills is charged with DUI, theft, receiving stolen property, recklessly endangering another person, conspiracy to steal an automobile and fleeing police. Sykes has been charged with DUI, aggravated assault, fleeing police, theft, receiving stolen property, unauthorized use of an automobile, and possession of an instrument of a crime.
According to investigators, on March 5 at 9:49 a.m., Camden Police stopped a vehicle at Haddon and Federal Streets. The officer was conducting a vehicle investigation when the suspects, who were unrelated to the initial car stop, jumped into the officer’s vehicle striking him as they fled. He was transported to Cooper Hospital and admitted in serious condition.
Camden Police observed the stolen police car going over the Ben Franklin Bridge into Philadelphia. A pursuit of the patrol vehicle proceeded into Philadelphia north on Fifth Street. With the assistance of Philadelphia police the stolen patrol car was stopped at Seventh and Norris Streets. As Bills was apprehended, police observed Sykes get into a Philadelphia police car and drive south on Seventh Street from Norris. The vehicle continued to elude police striking three unattended cars at 600 West Lehigh Avenue. The stolen vehicle continued to flee despite having heavy front end damage and finally came to a rest on the 1100 block of Hope Street where Sykes was arrested without incident.
Suspect Arrested in Murdered Vet Case
On Sunday homicide detectives arrested a woman wanted for stabbing a West Philadelphia man to death on Friday, March 22.
Carolyn Harris, 37, from the 5300 block of Poplar Street. Harris was arrested on Sunday, March 24, 2013 and charged with the murder of 59-year old Peter Miles. Miles was a U.S. Army veteran. On Friday, March 22, 2013, police responded to a report of a deadly stabbing inside a residence on the 5300 block Poplar Street. Upon arrival officers were directed to the second floor bedroom where they found Miles dead from multiple stab wounds to the chest. Investigators said he had been dead for several days. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Harris is charged with murder and related offenses. The motive in the killing has not yet been released.
The investigation continues into how and why a passenger on a U.S. Airways plane managed to enter the cockpit Wednesday evening.
Law enforcement authorities said that Philippe Jennard, 61, of La Rochelle, France was found sitting in the jump seat behind the captain’s seat on board a flight out of Philadelphia bound for West Palm Beach, Miami. Jennard was found wearing a shirt with an Air France logo and was also carrying a jacket that closely resembled a pilot’s jacket. Jennard was a ticketed passenger but allegedly identified himself as a pilot for Air France and was in possession of a counterfeit Air France identification.
He has been charged with criminal trespass, tampering with records, impersonating a person privately employed and false ID to law enforcement. He is being held on a $1 million bail.
Murder Suspect Arrested
Homicide detectives have arrested a suspect who gunned down a man in front of his 5-year old son on December 23, 2012 in a Walgreen’s parking lot.
Investigators said that on March 17, 2013, suspect Jahmir Harris was arrested for the murder of Louis Porter, 45, of the 1900 block of South Bonsall Street. Harris, 23, of the 1600 block of Ringgold Street has been charged with murder and related offenses.
On Dec. 23, 2012, at 8:15 p.m., Porter, along with his five year-old child were parked in the Walgreen’s parking lot at 2300 Oregon Avenue. Moments later Harris allegedly pulled up in a possible Ford vehicle, exited the vehicle then pulled a handgun and fired, striking Porter several times. Fortunately the child was not injured. Harris allegedly fled the scene in an unknown direction and police believe he may have had an accomplice.
During the investigation Harris was identified by a witness as the suspect and he was arrested without further incident.
Harris is 23 years-of-age and is from the 1600 block of Ringgold Street. Harris is charged with murder and related offenses.
As the New York Police Department comes under scrutiny regarding its stop-and-frisk practices, a similar case in Philadelphia has also brought the harsh spotlight once again on the same practices by the city’s police officers.
A report released this week by the law firm of Kairys Rudovsky Messing and Feinberg along with the Philadelphia ACLU alleges that almost half of all pedestrian stops were conducted without probable cause. Further, the report alleges that the department continues to report low levels of unconstitutional stop-and-frisk and raises concerns as to whether or not the Internal Affairs Department and inspectors are carrying out appropriate oversight.
In a disproportionately high number of stop–and-frisks conducted by Philadelphia police officers, the officers didn’t have probable cause or reasonable suspicion to initiate the action, the report said. Also, as in the case being heard in New York, most of the stop –and-frisks were conducted on African-American and Latino men, many of whom were not involved in criminal or suspicious activity.
“This report tells us that the city has not achieved the goal of ensuring that its stop-and-frisk practices are legal and fair,” said civil rights attorney David Rudovsky. “The Philadelphia Police Department will need to improve its own monitoring and supervision systems to meet that goal, or the court will be asked to impose appropriate sanctions. We’re two years into this process. We understand the police use shorthand, and that’s not the issue. We sampled 1,800 incidents and out of that number only three guns were recovered; there should be more evidence.”
Mark McDonald, spokesman for the Nutter administration, said the report tends to highlight poor documentation of appropriate stop and frisks. Captain Fran Healy, special counsel to Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, said in many instances his police officers are doing a good job but are poorly documenting the reasons for making the stops.
“We get criticized when a report like this comes out, but the fact is we provide more documentation regarding stop-and-frisks than any other police department,” Healy said. “The law requires reasonable suspicion when we stop someone and probable cause if they think the person has a weapon. They write the reason for the stop, but often use cop abbreviations so we’ll see the reason for the stop listed as ‘loitering’ and then terminology that doesn’t accurately describe what happened. Here’s the problem; I have a range of officers on the streets, some with just a GED and others with law degrees, and we need to have them on the same page. The stops may be lawful but not properly documented.”
The report is the latest peripheral to the case of Bailey v. Philadelphia, in which a number of African -American men say they were stopped questioned and frisked without cause by Philadelphia police officers. The complainants: Mahari Bailey, Timothy Streaty, Fernando Montero, Preston Fulton, Gregory Blackmon, Jr., John Cornish, Carl Cutler and former State Rep. Jewell Williams accused the Philadelphia police officers of violating their constitutional and civil rights. They claim that the more than 10 defendants named in the complaint implemented and enforced a policy of stop-and-frisk without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Mahari Bailey, the lead plaintiff in the case, was in West Philadelphia in early 2008 with several other Black men when he was approached by some officer who allegedly stopped Bailey without cause.
“Since the case has settled, the police and city government have made some efforts to improve the current and past practices. Unfortunately, those efforts may not be reflected in the numbers, and I hope that the numbers are improved in the coming reports; especially in the disparity. I have faith that the city and police department will remedy the situation in time,” said Bailey.
Allegedly his car was searched and he was detained with no criminal charges being filed against him. Around Sept. 12, 2008 Bailey was stopped again while driving in the vicinity of North 64th Street. The complaint alleges he was pulled over and was asked by the officers if he had any drugs or guns in the car. Bailey told them he was an attorney and that there were no illegal drugs or firearms in his vehicle. He was detained again and eventually released with no criminal charges being filed.
Bailey was stopped again in August 2009 by Philadelphia police officers who allegedly had no reasonable suspicion or probable cause. He identified himself as an attorney and this time refused to consent to being searched. Allegedly, one of the stopping officers raised his fist in a threatening manner and told him “he didn’t give a f*** who he was” and left.
“On each occasion, defendants subjected Mr. Bailey without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, to an unlawful stop, frisk, search or detention based on his race,” the complaint stated. “This unconstitutional conduct is a direct and proximate result of policies, practices and or customs of the defendants.”
In 2011, the city and the ACLU reached a settlement agreement regarding the complaint. As part of the settlement, the Philadelphia Police Department agreed to collect data on all stop-and-frisks. Officers were to be retrained regarding stop-and-frisk procedures and agreed to establish a monitoring system in which the police department, plaintiffs' counsel and an independent court-appointed monitor would review and analyze the data.
The report, which was released on March 19, showed that the overall number of stops had decreased by nearly 15 percent. On the flip side, the report indicated that there was still a very high number of stops-and-frisks – about 45 percent – made without reasonable suspicion.
African-American and Latino males bore the brunt of those contested incidents – 76 percent of the stops and 85 percent of the frisks. The report notes that Philadelphia Police Department officers continue to stop pedestrians for reasons specifically forbidden in the consent decree, because they are "loitering," or "acting suspiciously," or on the basis of a description too vague and generic to justify a stop. Tens of thousands of Philadelphians continue to be stopped without reasonable suspicion, it said.
Captain Healy said police need to stop the right people, but to do their jobs without alienating the community they serve. Using terms like “loitering” simply undercuts the good job they’re doing, he said.
“The community needs to know that police officers are stopping people for the right reasons, and if we abide by the law we uphold; that creates credibility and transparency,” Healy said. “If you read between the lines in the Bailey case, you see that in numerous cases, the police officer was verbally abusive. People don’t file a complaint against an officer for fun. It’s a lengthy process, so you know when they do, they were offended by something. We have an aggressive policy to address that. An officer who has a complaint filed against them ends up in their inspector’s office with their commander who tells them that ‘your mouth put you in here because you dropped the f-bomb and I don’t want to see you back in here.’ Believe me, you don’t want to find yourself sitting in the inspector’s office for any reason. But a lot of people grow up using the f-word and think it’s all right when it’s not. The behavior of our officers has to be above reproach and the fact is that if you can’t conduct yourself in an appropriate and professional manner you need to walk…find another job, because this one isn’t for you.”