Voices From the Collective: Philly Cops
Issue #21, October 1995
In addition to being a discussion list, Bad Subjects has on many occasions been a site for disseminating information. List members often educate one another about important political issues that aren't widely discussed elsewhere. I found this thread particularly compelling given the endless discussions of the OJ verdict. The LAPD has no monopoly on abuses of power. As you will see, however, Nathan Newman's original post catalyzed a much wider ranging discussion about the relation of class and race in the experience of oppression.
Date: Thu, 5 Oct 1995 14:54:52 -0700 (PDT)
From: Nathan Newman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Recipients of <bad@ENGLISH-SERVER.HSS.CMU.EDU>
Subject: Philly Cops: Frame Ups, Threats, Death
For those wondering about whether broad police conspiracies to plant evidence are likely, read the following report on the Philadelphia scandal unfolding.
From: Bob Witanek <email@example.com>
Subject: Philly Cops: Frame Ups, Threats, Death
/* Written 6:38 PM Oct 4, 1995 by bwitanek in igc:njspeakout */
Posted by Bob Witanek <firstname.lastname@example.org> 10/4/95
Another excellent report by Jose Santiago of radio station WBAI 99.5FM about the criminal police force of Philadelphia broadcast 10/4/95:
JOSE: One of the greatest police scandals in the nation's history involves 6 Philadelphia cops right now but reports say dozens of other might eventually be implicated. Yesterday, as the verdict was being read in the Simpson trial in LA, Philadelphia officials were announcing that another group of people serving time in Pennsylvania jails were being released from prison because they were convicted on the basis of false testimony from Philadelphia cops. Will Gonzalez is executive director of Philadelphia's Police-Barrio Relations Project, a group that monitors police corruption and misconduct. He says that the Simpson's defense team's contention that the LA police planted evidence in the case does not sound that far fetched, because that is exactly what has happened in a number of cases in Philadelphia:
WILL: There is a very good parallel, that is right now in Philadelphia there are revelations of at least 6 police officers who have declared themselves guilty in federal court to fabricating evidence, planting evidence, stealing and physical abuse against citizens. As a result of their guilty pleas, hundreds, and possibly thousands of cases are going to be dismissed against people. Among the victims is a grandmother who had evidence fabricated against her and spent some time in jail. Slowly but surely, people who have spent time in jail because of the antics of these police officers are being set free and other criminal charges against others are slowly being dismissed. It show here how the police misconduct is effecting not just OJ, but a lot of people.
JOSE: The last time I checked with Philadelphia police officials, I was told that sometimes 40 or 42 people have been released from prisons or charges have been dropped against them because of this case. But I'm told there was some more that were released yesterday, can you tell us about that?
WILL: Yes, there was some more people whose cases were dismissed and the Defenders Association, public defenders in Philadelphia, now have their own unit to specifically review each and every case that involved those 6 officers. Credit for discovering this group of officers goes to the defenders because these officers were so callous and they were using always the same fact pattern to make these false arrests and false search warrants. The Defenders Association uncovered it. It's interesting that now the very systems that looked the other way, in these police corruption and misconduct are now paying the price. The DA's office has the responsibility to prosecute fairly and make sure laws are followed. When they look the other way, with the actions and testimony of police officers, now they have to pay up for looking the other way. The same thing goes for the court system, the judges, who supposed to be impartial and supposed to look at the evidence and point out any attempts to deceive the courts. They're paying for their oversight.
JOSE: Do you know the number of people whose charges were dismissed or released from prison yesterday.
WILL: About a dozen.
JOSE: You been activity on the issue of police community relations ... has included one particular case, that of Moises de Jesus, who died after interaction with police. Can you briefly tell us about this incident and the hearings on the issue, at one of which there was a some difficulties with Fraternal Order of Police members.
WILL: In Philadelphia, the Civilian Review Board is holding its first set of public hearings on its first investigation into an allegation of police misconduct. It involves the case of Moises de Jesus, who last August 94, died while in police custody. Moises was having difficulties, going through some seizures, as a result of a previous brain injury and drug use. His family called the police. The police came. There were a whole slew of violations of procedures. He was put in 3 different vehicles. He was left in one vehicle on a hot August evening with the windows rolled up. He was desperate. He kicked one of the windows in the back. The officers proceeded to, according to witnesses to hit and beat him, producing several injuries to his head. On the way to the hospital, there are allegations that the van was swerving, and when he got to the hospital, there are allegations that he was hit again. When he got to the hospital, he collapsed. According to the city paid medical examiner, he died as a result of drug intoxication compounded by the injuries he suffered from blunt objects. According to the city paid medical examiner, the blows to the head were the straw that broke the camel's back. Two other pathologists, one hired by the commission, that concurred with the examiner. One was hired by the family who concurred with the city medical examiner, but put more emphasis on the blows. The police version is that blows to the head were caused by de Jesus striking the pavement. They allege that he dove out of the police car. They say that his head injuries were caused by hitting the pavement. The medical examiners and other 2 pathologists said that the injuries to his head are not consistent to a fall on the pavement because there were no scrape marks, the ground being a very abrasive surface. At this point, only 3 of the 9 officers involved have testified. There will be a hearing in federal court on Thursday to determine of the other 6 will testify. We hope that in the evening the hearings will continue with the testimony of the other 6 remaining officers.
JOSE: I understand that the community has been asking for hearings on this and that there was resistance on the part of the authorities, but recently, the civilian complaint review board was able to have a hearing or two in Philadelphia, and that there were some difficulties at that hearing, I wonder if you can tell what the tone of the hearing was.
WILL: The commission has tried to do its work but throughout has been met with obstacles. It finally was able to hold its first public hearings on this case starting on September 18, and we think they'll go on for another week. This is the first thorough investigation into the case. Internal affair and the justice department have not concluded their investigation. The DA's office called an investigation but never interviewed any officers or civilian witnesses. A lot of things are coming out. Last week at 2 of the hearings, there were some disturbances as members who are taking the side of the police caused a number of interruptions and physically and verbally tried to intimidate some people.
JOSE: I understand that the interruptions and intimidation went beyond what happened in the hearing itself ...
WILL: There's been some trash talk outside of the hearing room and in the community. I don't know how to explain it, I call it trash talk.
JOSE: Is there a sense by any activists fighting for justice in this case that they are individually or as a group being threatened by police, the fraternal order of police, because they've been speaking out.
WILL: I wouldn't say that it comes from the Fraternal Order, it might be some officer. I have not received a call from somebody specifically saying that they're from there. There's always a bunch of crazy people. Instead of dissuading us, it motivates us to move forward.
JOSE: Will Gonzalez is executive director of Philadelphia's Police- Barrio Relations Project. While he was reluctant to discuss allegations that police threatened local activists, WBAI has learned that a number of community leaders have been threatened in Philadelphia, including one who shot a video tape of a recent civilian complaint review board meeting, who had his camera wrenched out of his hands and stolen by a man believed to be a police officer or police supporter. The current probe comes at the same time the Fraternal Order of Police has pressured state legislators to introduce a bill that would dismantle Philadelphia's civilian complaint review board.
From: email@example.com (Richard Singer)
Date: Fri, 6 Oct 1995 14:11:19 -0400
To: Recipients of <bad@ENGLISH-SERVER.HSS.CMU.EDU>
Subject: Re: Philly Cops: Frame Ups, Threats, Death (fwd)
On Oct 06, 1995 12:03:20, 'firstname.lastname@example.org (Doug Henwood)' wrote:
Dave also said that the obsession with race was part of:
>>the major ideological project of the USA: to blind the
>>>population to ECONOMIC INJUSTICE AND EXPLOITATION.
>Race has nothing to do with the formation of class in America? Why is it
>so hard to see that both whites and blacks (and browns too) suffer
>class exploitation, but that the nonwhites suffer injuries of race as
>well as class? They're not mutually exclusive.
>Politically, I think it's important to emphasize class to try to develop
>some unity among the exploited. It's a strategy to overcome racism. But
>to deny that race matters in America - and matters a lot - is to deny
>one of the central melodramas of our history.
As you just pointed out, Doug, emphasizing class is the essential way to form some unity among the exploited, especially at this time, when the economic classes are becoming polarized as the middle class dwindles away, and when the upper economic class is consolidating power in unprecedented ways. I think we can all agree that race and class are not mutually exclusive (especially in this country), but the huge weight given to race differences versus class differences and the unfortunate black raced-based reaction — which is understandalbe when looked at in a historical context, but also irrational, bigoted and ultimately self-destructive — have helped to make the possibility of class unity more remote than ever.
Ironically, the race-based reaction on the part of "minorities" most affects those white individuals who are economically and geographically closest to blacks and Latinos in the city. You can cite history, and you can site national statistics, and you can point at an admittedly huge population of racist whites living outside of the cities (or in the outer regions of our larger cities) to show how whites still keep blacks down and show how racism only exists as white-against-black (because of the nature of the power structures, blah, blah), but I have, in the past several years, heard numerous stories from white people who've lived in Brooklyn, in Washington Heights, in The Bronx, etc., about black or Latino-based hostility against them strictly because of race — on the streets, on the subways, and in certain job-application situations, such as when whites apply for government jobs in black-dominated offices. It is partly because of this nearly exclusive emphasis on race and the consequent lack of consciousness about class (and about who might be the best allies for people of color in the struggle for equality) that a unified movement against the upper economic class's consolidation of power seems almost impossible.
While I have heard plenty of cliches lately about how divisive media events like the OJ trial are good because they help to bring racial conflicts to the forefront (the same lame line that is used in defense of the racism in gangsta rap), I have only seen these events exacerbate such divisions, which have grown tremendously in recent years. Being 34 years old and a lifelong resident of big mid-Atlantic cities, I have had the unenviable perspective of seeing race consciousness and racial divisions increase, rather than decrease, and seeing these irrational and destructive divisions occur on the side of both "minorities" and whites (though in my immediate environment, I have witnessed it more on the part of "minorities," if only because most of the racist whites fled the urban areas). And as the gap between haves and have-nots has grown larger and deeper, it has become ever-so convenient for privileged blacks to consolidate their own power by portraying the plight of poor blacks as the direct result of universal white racism. Meanwhile, who do you (all you Bad Subjects) really think is benefitting from this increased "awareness" of racial divisions? Divide and conquer — it's an ancient strategy, but it works just fine at the dawn of the 21st century.
— Richard Singer
Date: Fri, 6 Oct 1995 23:50:09 -0700 (PDT)
From: S. Grubb <email@example.com>
To: Multiple recipients of <bad@ENGLISH-SERVER.HSS.CMU.EDU>
Subject: Re: Philly Cops: Frame Ups, Threats, Death (fwd)
On Fri, 6 Oct 1995, Richard Singer wrote:
>I never denied that, but as you said, it does no good to react to that
>"beef" by adding to racial hostilities. Besides, there are many among us
>white folks who have little to do with the oppression of black people.
It is not about reacting to that "beef," but about acknowledging that that there is such a thing as racial oppression. The point about us white folks having nothing to do racial oppression is only partly true. It is true that we don't *actively* employ racist sentiments, but since "we" are white, we enjoy what is called "white privilege." This means that, although we're not racist, we still enjoy the privilege of "owning" the white skin color of the ruling class. So, although we might be poor, economically, we are still rich in racial privilege. The same goes for gender inequalities. Even though, we might be poor and white or black, we men, still are of the same gender as the ruling elite, which grants us privilege for that (hence, the "rich, white, heterosexual male oppressor"). Even though, we can't help most of these privileged physical features, we can't take our privileges for granted and/or ignore them. We have to denounce and reject (as good as possible) these privileges and *acknowledge* them. Doing so *will* get unity and alliance among the oppressed parties, acknowledging only one form of oppression will not create unified resistance. We have to build coalitions, not destroy or reject them.
> We must also keep in mind that social history should not be used as
> complete justification and excuse for individual behavior. The nasty
> black teenager in the street may have heard limited snippets of that
> 400-year-history, but his personal beef goes back only about 17 years,
> as he was born long after the battles of the Civil Rights Movement.
> What, besides social indoctrination within his community, feeds his
> beef against white people? Poverty, crime, despair ... all things
> that can easily be approached as forms of class oppression, if that
> kid ever learns to think along such lines.
That "nasty black teenager" will never get class consciousness because he has to deal with the color of his skin and its repercussions in racist society, which prohibits him to develop class consciousness. Were there no repercussions from his skin color, he would very well develop class consciousness. Also, race as well as gender oppression *can not* be approached through class analysis. They might all complement each other, but one of them simply can not explain all the others.
> Meanwhile, must well-intentioned white people who never had racist
> thoughts and/or white people who must scrape to get by (having never
> enjoyed the notorious suburban/economic white man's privilege) be held
> responsible for 400 years of social and economic oppression by white
> folks in power? That is not the kind of responsibility that fits a
> rational democracy, nor is it the kind that will lead to any
> constructive social action.
That "well intentioned (poor) white person," still enjoys white skin privilege and as long as that white person doesn't distance him/herself from that privilege they are and continue to be "passive" participants in racist oppression. *All* white people are responsible for the 400 years of domination, not just the ruling elite, by denying or not acknowledging their racial privilege. Building coalitions between the numerous oppressed factions of society *will* lead to constructive social action, while single issue hardlining will never lead to anything.
Kevin, who is using his girlfriend's internet account and computer. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.