On the Saturday before last (the date of the canceled Greek Weekend) Philadelphia police closed down South Street when, they say, an influx of visitors (especially teenagers) overwhelmed the street.
The Inquirer reported on Monday that South Street business owners by and large thought the cops had done a good job â although the article dealt more with police on South Street in general than with the particulars of that night.
Since then, I've gotten a few tips from people saying otherwise.
Anthony K, who works at a South Street bar, told me this story of the Friday night prior to the street shutdown:
[Police] were banging on cars, pulling people out of cars. . . . There were taxis and stuff still coming down South Street and cops were banging on the hoods of cars . . .
[The police] are normally pretty chill. It's like they had brought in the infantry, so to speak. It might have been a little busier than usual, because it was a Friday, but it just seemed like a typical weekend on South Street â certainly nothing out of the ordinary.
It was a bit after last call, it was maybe 2:20, I was still stacking up chair, I happen to see some kid fly the entire length of the French doors, just from one end to the other. I went up to the window and I saw some kid â I didn't see how escalated, but some kid just got beat up by four or five cops, he was flailing in self-defense. . . .
They literally got him between two cars and were beating on the kids â the kid wasn't even fighting, he was just flailing his arms, with five guys beating on him â then the one dude just pulled it off his belt and zapped him . . .I've never seen anything like that. They tased him, he lay there a bit, it was pretty disgusting to see â they let him lie there for a while, his girlfriend was screaming.
Susanna Martin wrote a letter to the Inquirer, and sent me the unabridged version:
I was walking down South Street a little after midnight Saturday night with a friend, and there were a lot of young people of African descent around, as usual on South St. on a Saturday night. In Monday's article, "Crowds put at 20,000 force police to close parts of South Street," a police spokesperson says that the only problems were minor, such as underage drinking and "disorderly conduct," which can apply to almost anything. The only violence I saw that night was the draconian police evacuation of South Street. They cleared the street and the sidewalks using a row of horses, including two cops on horses on each sidewalk, yelling at the young people to go up to Broad Street and shoving them along. Then at least 5 rows of cops on motorcycles cleared the street, which was extremely alarming.
I think I saw one kid get beat up by the cops and arrested, but it was unclear what was happening. It was down the block, and I was trying to get away from the cops on horses. Police on foot were chasing individual young people with nightsticks if they tried to walk down a side street away from South Street where they were being corralled. I yelled that the young people weren't doing anything wrong. I think because I'm a white woman in my late 30s, I was not arrested for yelling at the police. Everyone else was just trying to get away, very calmly I thought, as they were being chased very rudely down the public sidewalks and herded onto Broad Street.
Philebrity had an interesting take on the whole thing, too:
What kind of crazy temperature is the City running these days that this kind of buildup and conflict occurs when nothing is happening at all? And then that, of course, threw us back to something we were saying during the whole flash mob craze: Could so much of this be happening because these kids feel like Center City is somehow not for them, and that the only way they believe they can experience it is like this, en masse in a borderline riot state? And when did it become the police's job to scrub Center City of black youth on the weekends? We know they're there to protect and serve, of course, but on the news the next night, when we saw the SEPTA busses that had been rolled in to take all of these kids back home, we got a very unpleasant feeling indeed.
For some reason, The Clog just digested something today that we've probably looked at a million times before Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey's "blog" on the Philadelphia Police Department's website. As you can see, it has died the silent death of a million blogs before it, having exactly zero posts. Now sure, if Ramsey did use it, it would probably just be for press releases and the like. But imagine if it wasn't: Imagine if it were an exceptionally candid blog about his actual thoughts (the majority of which are probably just complaints about other cops), or everyday minutiae, like his celebrity lookalike and the salmon he cooked for dinner last night. How great would that be?
But alas, Ramsey is not with the times.
Or is he? Is Twitter's phillytopcop the real deal?
|Lawrence Kesterson, Philly.com online gallery|
Yes, Philly finally made the front page of the New York Times did we even get that for Phillies' WFCship? and it's for ... flash mobs.
The Times covered this as a national story, using Philly's recent incidents as an example of the way the flash mob has mutated from its pillow-fighting, silent iPod dance party origins.
The article was pretty bland, consisting largely of canned quotes from various public officials and youth advocates: the former blaming kids and parents; the latter blaming the public officials.
But there was, I think, a buried lead:
The flash mobs have raised questions about race and class.
Most of the teenagers who have taken part in them are black and from poor neighborhoods. Most of the areas hit have been predominantly white business districts.
It's true: and it's a point the mainstream has stayed away from so far with the exception of the Daily News' Stu Bykofsky, who brought up the topic in his column yesterday.
"Flash mobs" was the topic on "Tell Me More," NPR's newest attempt at having a non-white-people-focused show (I think their word is "multi-cultural," but it totally replaced "News and Notes"), and it was introduced with a tag line something like "Some see racism in the response" to the flash mobs.
I think that race and class, and systemic poverty and the various Big Issues that plague our city do matter in this discussion.
A particularly uncomfortable experience is viewing Philly.com's online gallery of the South Street incident, which juxtaposes scenes of bedlam full of black faces with scenes of white business owners and one (white) bruised worker.
I'm posting this in the hope (remote it may be) that I don't inadvertently invite a slew of racist comments. A discussion about these incidents is immature if we don't admit that race and class figure in somewhere. But, obviously, it's a starting point - not a destination.
I see two lines of predictable response shaping up.
There's the hard-line answer, as expressed by Mayor Nutter and Police Chief Ramsey, which goes like this: This isn't about race, class, opportunity, government, it's about bad parenting. And if you can't keep 'em home, we'll lock 'em up:
Said Nutter to the NYT: "There is no racial component to stupid behavior, and parents should not be looking to the government to provide entertainment for their children."
Said Ramsey at a press conference: "It's not the government's responsibility to raise your child. It's your responsibility. When we get involved as police, it's too late for the tears."
It strikes me as wishfully simplistic: all bark and no bite. If there's one thing the city can't enforce, it's good parenting. Nutter and Ramsey can wipe their hands of this all they want but they'll still have to answer to residents after the next incident. And unless something drastic happens, there will be another incident.
Which brings me to the second line of response: liberal denial.
This line of rhetoric emphasizes that these are just teenagers trying to have a good time, that the response has been overblown and the allegations of violence exaggerated.You want to point fingers? Point them at reduced library and pool hours, insufficient after-school programs, cuts in anti-violence programs.
I don't buy that, either. First of all, these are teenagers - not little kids. They don't want to go to a library, they want to party and be obnoxious (like a lot of us did and were). That's fine it's the violence that changes everything.
Because, despite what I hear from a surprising number of progressive-types, these incidents have been violent disturbingly, sickeningly violent. Last May, a 54-year-old man was pulled from his bicycle and critically beaten; a cab driver was assaulted. On Market Street a month ago, youths knocked over pedestrians. At least a few people seem to have been beaten in last weekend's incident on South Street. Sorry: but victims come first.
I don't think this is just about a lack of things do to: there's something deeper and much scarier at work here. I think that you have to connect these incidents to the attack at South Philadelphia High and to Greek Picnic, and to a disturbing number of cases of kids committing violence en masse.
Frankly, I suspect something terrible is building. I don't like to say it. But, on the eve of another hot Philadelphia summer we'd better be ready for it.
How? I dunno. But here's my two cents:
Have a couple police dedicated to monitoring social networking sites to look out for this stuff.
- Do what we do for adult white drunk weekend people: We know where they gather, and we post a ton of cops. Philly teens gather at predictable locations, if not at predictable times, right? How hard can it be?
- Consider closing off South Street and 40th street for a few blocks on weekends. You can hardly get through anyway, there's no parking, and the congestion of cars only makes it harder for cops to keep track of anything (especially bike cops, who are pretty effective on South Street).
- Give a serious and un-cowardly look at City Controller Alan Butkovitz' suggestion to curb students' use of city-issued SEPTA trans-passes. His suggestions are intelligent, reasonable, and unlike yelling at parents or espousing social theories immediately practical.
- Enlist SEPTA workers (insanely busy as we all know they are not giving change) to alert police to high numbers of teens getting on the system.
- Consider posting city-employed non-police security officers (a la University City) at a few corners along South Street to alert cops to developing problems. If the city won't pay, maybe South Street businesses can chip in enough to hire a couple of guards.
Enough: What do you think?
As everyone in Old City revels in St. Patty's Day-douche mode (I readily admit I'm just jealous), about 30 protesters in Center City are speaking out against police brutality in Philly. They're set up at Broad and Locust streets, with the majority of folks being from the Uhuru Movement and Philadelphia Freedom Riders.
Check back later for video and photos we've got startern Josh Middleton (of Queer Bait fame) on the scene.
Friend of the Clog Brian James Kirk is running an interesting series over on ex-Inky columnist Tom Ferrick's Metropolis Web site this week, looking at the widespread use of surveillance video cameras by Philadelphia police. Check out part one here, and part two here. Part three, Brian tells me, should be up later today.
In any event, here's a sample:
When it comes to fighting crime, Philadelphia is undergoing a video revolution. Within a few short years, the city is likely to be blanketed by a network of more than a thousand state-of-the-art, high resolution cameras, scanning high-crime areas, critical structures such as the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, SEPTA stops and inner city streets.
The sweeping program had a modest beginning. In 2007, Mayor John Street and the Philadelphia Police Department announced a $10 million initiative to install 250 surveillance cameras around the city. These are high resolution Unisys digital video cameras that, if perched on a street light, can pan, tilt and zoom into details, such as a person's face or a license plate number, from a full city block away.
Today, 117 of the planned 250 cameras are in operation, perched above streets with their tell-tale blue lights blinking. Another 76 are covered by plastic bags awaiting network configuration.
But this is only the beginning. The number of cameras on the network is expected to expand exponentially in the near future. City officials are working on ways to link their Police Department operation with surveillance cameras used by such parties as SEPTA, local universities and private businesses to create a super-network of public space surveillance that can feed images back to the video monitoring room at Police Headquarters at Eighth and Race Sts.
These cameras, Brian writes, allow cops to zoom in on things like faces and license plates from up to a block away. Go take a read, it's worth a few minutes of your time. While you're at it, bear in mind that while the cops love taking pictures of you, they may well arrest you for reciprocating.
In this week's paper, we wrote about an apparently unlawful arrest outside Pat's Steaks on early Sunday morning, at around 3:25 a.m. The arrestee was handcuffed for photographing possible police misconduct on his phone which, in Philadelphia, is a crime and stuffed into the back of a patrol car.
Unfortunately, the PPD seems to have no record of the incident (shocking!) and doesn't have the man's name. So we appeal to you, Clog readers: If you know the man who was arrested or better yet, if you are that guy email Andrew Thompson at email@example.com. We've got a good track record using the Clog to find those roughed up by Philly cops: That's how we found Michael Foley, the guy who got the fucking shit beaten out of him outside our office the day of the Phillies parade. And we'd like to hit you up again.
Memories are fuzzy, but the man had very short black hair, what seemed to be a very slightly darker complexion (less African American and more Middle Eastern or South Asian), and an iPhone in a black case. I'm fuzzy on these specifics what do you think brought me to Pat's at 3:30? but if you or the person you suspect is our guy doesn't fit these specifics, shoot us an email anyway. I'd hate to not find him because he had a Blackberry and not an iPhone.
Don't know if you saw this little thingamajigger on Phawker, (which itself links to this thing from Washington City Paper), but our Police Commissioner may have a truthiness problem from his days down in DC. From the WashCP:
An affidavit filed today in U.S. District Court raises questions as to whether former D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey may have committed perjury in his sworn testimony about the Pershing Park fiasco. Ramsey had repeatedly stated in depositions that he had not ordered the mass arrest of approximately 400 people during the Sept. 27, 2002, World Bank/IMF protests.
Yet the affidavit, by Det. Paul Hustler, a 22-year D.C. Police veteran, maintains that Ramsey indeed ordered the arrests.
Hustler's affidavit, taken Nov. 16, [PDF] is just the latest shock in a pair of Pershing Park class-action civil suits in U.S. District Court. In recent months, the case has been dogged by allegations of massive discovery violations. Judge Emmet Sullivan has called for an outside investigation into how basic evidence in the cases had gone missing.
We took a quick read through Hustlerâs testimony, and indeed, if heâs telling the truth, it might not bode well for Chief Ramsey. So, being the judicious reporters that we are, we (technically, an intern) placed a call to Ramseyâs public affairs office, to ask if he had any thoughts on Hustlerâs statement. Here's what the lady who answered the phone told us, in whole:
"We're not willing to comment, and neither is he!â Click.
So, um, there you go.
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