The Brutal Face of Philly's Enforcers

Revolutionary Worker #1063, July 23, 2000

Two weeks before the National Republican Convention, the whole world got an intense and infuriating look at "Philadelphia Justice."

On Wednesday, July 12, a videotape was shot from a hovering news helicopter, as nine cops moved in on a police cruiser with guns drawn. Thomas Jones, a 30-year-old Black man, was sitting in the driver's seat. He had already been shot twice in his belly and three times in his arm. Jones had pulled the car to a halt and it looked like he wanted to surrender.

Cops yanked Jones from the car and threw him to the ground. They swarmed around him - first 10 cops, then 25. They frantically jostled each other to get in close so they could kick and pound the wounded man. One cop vaulted over the hood of the car - pumped up by a chance to brutalize a defenseless man on the streets of the Black community.

The scene was sickening and maddening - like a pack of hyenas fighting over a carcass. This is how police act on the streets of the U.S.

In 28 seconds, Thomas Jones was kicked 46 times and hit 59 times. When he was finally taken away in handcuffs, a large dark bloodstain was spreading across his shorts.

Within hours, Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney insisted this beating was an "aberration."

Who can believe that?!

The Philadelphia cops are notorious for corruption, racism and brutality - from their raids on the Black Panther Party in the late '60s, to their framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, to the murderous bombing of MOVE in 1985.

Look again at this tape - these cops felt justified and empowered to act like an occupying army in this oppressed community. They felt it was their job, their duty, and their right to brutally punish a man who defied them.

And the video of police brutality from Philly could have been a scene from any other city in the U.S. In fact, the same day, cops were videotaped beating a man at a traffic stop in Lawrenceville, Georgia.

The 28 seconds from Philly immediately brought to mind the LAPD beating of Rodney King; the NYPD brutalization of Abner Louima; the torture chamber run by Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, and the other scandals that have erupted in city after city.

Is there any question why people often feel the need to escape or defend themselves from police?

The Whole World Is Watching

"At least community relations are going pretty good, though it could all blow up in a few weeks."

Police Commissioner Timoney to
his commanders, hours before the
beating of Thomas Jones, July 12

The broadcast of this beating came at a terrible time for the U.S. ruling class - which wants the eyes of the world focused on the upcoming Republican National Convention. The Republicans plan to promote George W. Bush - who has always run as a hard "law-and-order" candidate - as the next president. But now, once again, the naked brutality of the system's "law and order" enforcers have been exposed before the eyes of millions.

The rulers are worried about the anger spreading in the grim streets of Philadelphia and beyond. They're concerned about the increasing numbers of middle class people who are becoming aware of and outraged at police brutality.

The rulers need some serious damage control in the wake of this Philly beating. They want to put a lid on people's anger. And they need to do this without demoralizing or paralyzing or pissing off the Philadelphia police - because such cops are vital to maintaining the capitalist order, and specifically to defending the Republican National Convention in the coming weeks.

The mayor of Philadelphia announced that he found the video "troubling" but he insisted there was no way of knowing if it was really brutality until there was a full investigation - in other words, until the police were given time to get their story together.

Mayor John Street promised an investigation, but warned against a "witchhunt" against the police - and he is protecting the brutal cops by refusing to identify any of those who were involved in the beating. President Clinton added his voice saying he was confident Philadelphia's mayor would carry out a fair investigation.

In fact, within a day, five different investigations were announced-by the police, by the local authorities and by the federal prosecutors. All this was intended to cool out the anger of people-while the business of empire and elections presses ahead in Philadelphia.

At the same time, the media was flooded with police propaganda defending and upholding the beating of Thomas Jones. Jones was portrayed as a dangerous and vicious criminal who had opened fire on police, wounded a cop, stolen a police vehicle and resisted arrest even as the police beat him. Rich Costello, head of Philadelphia's Fraternal Order of Police, announced in gangster language, "You shoot one of us, you shoot all of us."

Police Commissioner Timoney told ABC: "For people to start making comparisons to Rodney King, I just think is outrageous. He [meaning Jones] is resisting throughout." Timoney has apparently forgotten that the LAPD justified their beating of Rodney King by arguing that he was "resisting throughout."

The People Saw What They Saw

Eyewitnesses from among the masses of people quickly stepped forward to challenge the police version of events.

Police supposedly stopped Thomas Jones because they suspected he was driving a stolen car. He tried to flee, but crashed his car and was caught.

"He had his hands up, like, I give up, it's over," one man said. Bertha Jones (who is not related to Thomas) saw the police start beating Jones when they first stopped him - before he ran. She said, "They beat that man, kicking him, punching him. I screamed, 'Y'all are going to kill him!' He was standing up, trying to guard his face. He was trying to hit back."

In the middle of this beating, Jones broke free, jumped into a police car that had its engine running, and took off.

Later, defenders of the police beating argued that people needed to look at the "context" of the beating - and "understand" how the police were angered at how Jones had persisted in resisting arrest. But can anyone blame Jones for trying to get away from these brutalizing police? After the Rodney King video, the 41 shots at Amadou Diallo, the Abner Louima torture, and countless other cases of naked police brutality - who cannot understand how a Black man being beaten by the police might fear for his life and try to get away?

Police claim Jones shot at them first - wounding a cop in the knuckle. But the cops can't explain where Jones supposedly got a gun or where that gun went.

First cops claimed Thomas had used a police gun-but none of the cops was missing his weapon. Police now suggest that Thomas pulled his own gun.

Bertha Jones saw what happened: "The man's hands were empty. You could see them clear as day."

This much is known: 10 different police opened fire on Jones, shooting at least 43 shots, wounding him five times, peppering the police car with bullets, and spreading expended shells from their 9mm Glocks across the street. Their barrage endangered the whole surrounding community, shattering plate glass along stoops where children play.

Thomas drove the police cruiser for 18 blocks. When the cops forced him from the car, they beat him savagely, while the news helicopter flew overhead.

The Victim Gets Charged

Jones survived hours of surgery, and drifted in and out of consciousness handcuffed to a chair in the hospital. When he opened his eyes, he told his fiance Vicky Bryant, "I wanted to make it back to you. I didn't want to die." He kept repeating, "They beat my ass. They beat me the fuck up."

"When he got out of the car, they had him. They should have just handcuffed him," Vicky Bryant said. "He's not an animal. He's not a dog. They intended for him to die."

While people around the world were shocked by the police frenzy, the Philadelphia authorities responded by throwing the book at Thomas Jones. He is being charged with attempted murder of a police officer, assault, resisting arrest, robbery, theft, and weapons offenses - 20 charges, about one for each cop who beat him. It amounts to a possible lifetime in prison.

Needless to say, no cop has been charged with attempting to kill Jones.


"It's plain, everyday police brutality. It looked like they were trying to kill him. Photos don't lie."

Ernest Jacobs, 78
stepfather of Thomas Jones

"It might make me feel a bit safer, because I saw a strong police presence."

Lee Salzman, Republican convention
delegate from Wisconsin

In the coming weeks, the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates of this system will be nominated and legitimized in their perverse political circuses - held in the cities where Rodney King and Thomas Jones were beaten - in convention centers surrounded by rings of police, snipers and federal agents.

This taped beating of Thomas Jones showed a moment of truth in a season of lies. What the world sees next at the upcoming conventions may be up to the people.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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