Revolutionary Worker #1016, August 1, 1999
This is the second of a two-part article. Part one appeared in issue #1013.
Certain words come up repeatedly when you look into the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD). "A history of favoritism, corruption and brutality"--this is from the "Police Study Task Force" which was set up in the aftermath of the 1985 bombing of the MOVE house. In 1988, the New York Times said the PPD was "considered one of the worst in the country." Human Rights Watch reported in 1998, "Corruption and brutality scandals have earned [the PPD] one of the worst reputations in the country."
Back in the days of silent films, the Philly cops were the model for the laughably inept Keystone Kops. The modern-day PPD is something truly ugly--a gang of vicious enforcers of injustice.
The PPD is notorious for beatings and forced confessions. A 1977 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer tabulated 80 homicide cases over a three-year period where local judges ruled that the police (mainly homicide cops) acted illegally during interrogations. The Inquirer described some police torture methods that were documented in court records: "...beating [a suspect's] feet and ankles; twisting or kicking his testicles and pummeling his back, ribs and kidneys." "Suspects have been beaten with lead pipes, blackjacks, brass knuckles, handcuffs, chairs and table legs. One suspect was stabbed in the groin with a sword like instrument." "Suspects and witnesses have testified that they were forced to watch beatings through [one way] windows and were told they would receive the same treatment unless they cooperated." Much of this brutality was done at police headquarters, the infamous Roundhouse. But it went on throughout the city.
Along with such torture is outright murder. In their book Above the Law, Jerome H. Skolnick and James J. Fyfe write: "During Rizzo's eight years as Philadelphia's mayor [1972-80], fatal shootings by PPD officers increased by about 20 percent annually. In a study conducted for the U.S. Justice Department, one of us reported that, while individual Philadelphia cops were no more likely than New York cops to make arrests or to come face-to-face with armed people, they were thirty-seven times as likely as New York cops to shoot unarmed people who had threatened nobody and who were fleeing from suspected nonviolent crimes." Skolnick and Fyfe outline numerous incidents where Philly cops wounded or killed "suspects" by shooting them in the back. (As we will see shortly, this murderous legacy isn't limited to the 1970s.)
Many of the revelations of PPD activity from the 1970s came out in preparation for a major U.S. federal lawsuit. This suit charged that Rizzo and 18 top city and police officials condoned the systematic brutality of the PPD. For a very brief time, a light was shone on the rampant and extreme brutality of the PPD. However, the suit never got very far and was thrown out in court decisions a few months after it was announced.
Rizzo eventually left office, but the police continued on. One of the hallmarks of the PPD has been low-down parasitism and setting people up for arrest. In 1984, 23 Philly cops were indicted for running a racketeering and extortion ring. The cops took payoffs totaling $350,000 from prostitution rings, tavern owners and vendors of video poker machines. The indicted cops ranged from low-level patrolmen all the way to a deputy commissioner.
In 1989 four members of a special narcotics squad known as the Five Squad were found guilty of extorting money and stealing drugs from dealers. In 1995 another cop was convicted on charges of theft and bribery.
Yet another major scandal broke out in 1995 in the 39th precinct--known as the "dirty ninth" among the people in the North Philadelphia neighborhood. Six cops ended up going to jail for a series of charges involving planting evidence, making false arrests and stealing tens of thousands of dollars of drug money. Officials were forced to review 1,400 cases--and hundreds of people were released from prison because of evidence that their arrests and convictions were based on police fabrication.
One of the many victims of these low-down schemes was 54-year-old Betty Patterson. The 39th precinct cops planted drugs in her house in order to create an excuse to search her house. They supposedly wanted to seize evidence against her son and others in a murder case. Patterson ended up spending three years in prison before she was finally released.
The case of Raymond Carter is also very revealing. Carter was railroaded for a murder that took place in a crowded North Philadelphia bar in 1986. Two dozen people were in the bar, but the only "witness" against Carter was a prostitute named Pamela Jenkins. Based mainly on her testimony, Carter was convicted and sentenced to life. Carter was released in 1996 after it was revealed that Jenkins lied on the stand in exchange for a $500 pay-off from police officers.
One of the cops that made the payoff to Jenkins in the Carter case was Thomas Ryan. In 1997 lawyers for Mumia Abu-Jamal submitted into court records a sworn affidavit by Jenkins. In the affidavit, Jenkins said that she was arrested by Ryan when she was 16. Shortly after this, Ryan began a sexual relationship with Jenkins and he pressured her to become a paid police informant for many years. And she testified that Ryan repeatedly pressured her to provide false testimony in Mumia's case.
John Baird, one of the convicted cops from the 39th, later made a revealing comment from prison when he told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "We didn't own and operate the system. We didn't invent it. We were just some of the many thousands of custodians. We inherited it."
Baird was no doubt speaking out of self interest, trying to lessen his individual role in the scandal. But his comment does point to the fact that the problem is not just "a few rotten apples" within the police department.
With 6,900 uniformed cops, the PPD is the fourth largest in the country. These cops are deployed in "on street" bureaus which include the 23 patrol districts that make up the city. Other bureaus are the detectives, special investigations, community relations and civil affairs, and emergency response. Community relations and civil affairs is the descendant of the Civil Defense Squad, the notorious "red squad" of the Rizzo years.
Statistics clearly show the targeting of Black people by the Philadelphia police and "justice" system. Philadelphia's population is 40 percent Black. But 64 percent of the people arrested by the PPD are Black--and 85 percent of the people sent to prison are Black. Over half of the death-row inmates in Pennsylvania come from one city --Philadelphia. And 80 percent of those death-row prisoners are Black.
One indication of PPD's crude brutality: it is one of the few police departments in the country that still use blackjacks--a hand weapon usually made of a piece of metal enclosed in leather, with a strap or spring-like shaft for a handle.
In cities like New York, some people raise the demand for a "residency requirement" for cops--arguing that this will make the police more "accountable" for their actions. It should be pointed out that the PPD has had a residency requirement for many years. Can anyone seriously argue that this has made the Philly police less brutal to the people?
In the aftermath of the 39th District scandal there has been a lot of noise about "reforming" the PPD. One of the supposed "reform" measures was the March 1998 appointment of John Timmoney as police commissioner. What "credentials" did he have for this position? Timmoney was one of the top cops during the first years of the Giuliani administration in New York City. He helped formulate the murderous "aggressive policing" tactics that have led to so much suffering and loss by the victims of police murder and brutality.
The Philadelphia police continue to murder and maim. For example, in 1992 eight cops shot and killed Charles Matthews with 23 bullets. In 1994 Moses DeJesus was taken into custody by police who said he was "drug crazed." DeJesus was put in a squad car. He apparently had difficulty breathing, and he kicked out the window. The cops then repeatedly beat him with batons. The cops eventually handcuffed DeJesus, put him in a police wagon and took him to a hospital. He never regained consciousness and died three days later.
In October 1998, Donta Dawson, who was unarmed, was shot in the head and killed as he sat in his car. The police claim they had approached the car because it was blocking traffic. And the cop said he fired his gun because he thought Dawson "was going for a gun."
Another incident that shows the trigger-happy nature of the PPD involved Ghana-born Stephen "Kuado" Opaku. In November 1998 Opaku was in a car wreck when PPD officer Gerald Morris arrived on the scene. Morris approached the car and then shot out the window--in what he claimed was an attempt to rescue Opaku. The bullet set the car on fire--and Opaku was killed in the blaze.
Then there is the case of Carlos McLoud, a Jamaican immigrant living in New York City. In 1995 McLoud won a $2.5 million dollar settlement from the city of Philadelphia for injuries suffered when he was shot by a cop. McLoud was walking by a variety store where a robbery was taking place. Courtney Stubbs, the store clerk, had been shot and was laying in the street. When McLoud went up to help him, he was shot by plainclothes cop Terrance Jones. McLoud was then shot in the groin as he lay on his back. The bullet injuries paralyzed McLoud from the waist down, and he was left homeless as a result. The police claimed that McLoud had picked up a gun that Stubbs was carrying and pointed it at the cop. But McLoud's attorney said that he had talked to witnesses, and none of them saw such a gun.
To really understand the PPD, you need to understand some things about the police "union," the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). According to Human Rights Watch, "The Fraternal Order of Police is exceptionally powerful in Philadelphia--some say it has more control of the police than the Police Commissioner." This is not just hype. All the cops in the PPD, with the exception of the Commissioner and a few of his deputies, are "civil service employees." What this means is that the entire force, from the captains to street cops, are members of the FOP Lodge #5. This gives the FOP a lot of power over how things get done within the department. In most cases, the Police Commissioner can't even fire cops without FOP cooperation. And fired cops are usually reinstated through FOP efforts. FOP lawyers go to almost every disciplinary hearing for cops--and in 90 percent of the cases cops are reinstated because they were found to be "improperly dismissed."
This kind of "arbitration" works to support killer cops like officer Rodney Hunt. In two separate incidents in 1990-91, Hunt shot and killed two men and wounded a woman bystander while off duty. In one of the cases he was brought up on, and cleared of, murder charges, though evidence showed he had shot the man, Sean Wilson, nine times, in the back. Wilson's mother was eventually given a $900,000 legal settlement in the case. Hunt was dismissed from the PPD, but the FOP went to bat for him. He was reinstated in 1994 and given back pay.
Not surprisingly, the FOP has been involved in corruption schemes, just like the PPD itself. In 1995 two former FOP officials--John Shaw, an ex-president, and Anthony LaSalle, an ex-treasurer--were convicted and sent to prison for bribery and racketeering during the early 1990s.
The FOP has repeatedly gone to court to challenge the authority of the city's Police Advisory Commission (PAC). Created by the mayor in 1993, the PAC basically serves as a shock absorber for complaints against the police. But even this kind of token "oversight" of the police is too much for the FOP, which wants cops to have unrestrained power to beat and harass the people.
FOP Lodge #5 has been active in going after people they see as anti-police. The FOP sued the record label "Alternative Tentacles" (founded by musician Jello Biafra) for $2.2 million, because the CD cover of the band Crucifucks included a picture of a cop who had been shot. The picture originally appeared on an FOP fundraising poster. What the FOP was really upset about was the anti-police content of the CD.
The FOP has been very vocal and active in demanding the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal. One of the most recent examples was their attempt to undermine the January benefit concert for Mumia in New Jersey, headlined by the band Rage Against the Machine. At the time FOP president Richard Costello issued this threat: "Anyone attending this or promoting this is actively supporting the murder of police officers and will be looked on as such." And the FOP held a program to honor Daniel Faulkner (the cop Mumia is accused of killing) and to raise funds for the anti-Mumia campaign--on the eve of the April 24 Millions for Mumia demo.
A look at the history and record of the Philadelphia Police Department shows a brutal, vindictive and vicious organization. They have proven repeatedly that they will resort to all kinds of deceit and violence. They have caused great suffering for the masses of people in this city. And the Philly police--along with the city's power structure as a whole--has been behind the railroad of Mumia Abu-Jamal and the attempt to execute him.
Philadelphia is called the City of Brotherly Love. But, like every other city across the country, the ruling class, their political agents and their enforcers have no love for the poor. And they deeply hate those like Mumia who take a revolutionary stand for the people.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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