Veteran Philadelphia broadcaster Jeff Hart stood outside the Criminal Justice Center in Center City last Tuesday afternoon showing a reporter a stack of documents including a citation Hart received from the FBI for successfully completing a citizens training program.
Hart brought those documents with him for a court proceeding to help refute charges leveled against him by a Philadelphia policeman who claimed Hart became disorderly during the arrest of a suspected gunman a block from Hart’s West Philadelphia home.
Hart said the officer’s charges against him are false, slapped on him after he asked that officer not to curse when that officer demanded that Hart and another man clear the corner where they stood watching that suspect’s apprehension.
That arrest, Hart said, included an apparent beating inside a police car.
“I would never interfere with police. I’ve been through FBI simulations and know procedures,” Hart said. He has worked with police officials and officers in his area on anti-crime/anti-violence issues.
Given the violence often accompanying police–citizen encounters in Black communities Hart is lucky he wasn’t beaten or shot.
Last week an overwhelmingly white jury in Pittsburgh, Pa., deadlocked on claims arising from three white policemen violently beating a Black high school honor roll student into a days-long coma and permanent brain damage during a 2010 arrest near the student’s home.
Last month police in Jonesboro, Arkansas, claimed a 21-year-old Black man shot himself in the head while handcuffed inside a police car — a suspicious death police listed suicide now under FBI investigation.
The sequence of events that landed Hart in a 19th Police District holding cell began when Hart left his home on a Saturday evening in early July to get some Jamaican food.
Hart said “all hell broke loose” when a number of police cars rushed up when he reached an intersection.
One police car drove into this guy police were chasing, Hart said. Police subdued that suspect and drug him into a police car.
“I heard one of the officer’s say, “We got the gun.” They apprehended him in what I’d describe as a ‘rough’ way. But the police said he had a gun,” Hart said.
About ten minutes later one officer entered the police car containing the suspect and appeared to beat the suspect.
That’s when Hart said he exclaimed, “Oh my God!”
And, that’s when Hart went from observer to wrong-doer in the eyes of one policeman.
“This Black officer, Officer Moore, tells us to move back saying ‘get the F*#k outta here’ repeatedly. I said “You don’t have to talk to us that way.” I went to walk away as ordered and that officer grabbed me up by the back of my shirt and slammed me on a police car,” Hart said.
When released hours after his curb-side detention Hart said he refused to sign paperwork police told him to sign because it contained false claims.
“The officer wrote that I cursed him with the F-word. That’s a lie. The officer said I drew a crowd to harass officers. That was a lie,” Hart said.
From Hart’s perspective his arresting officer abused his authority — a claim that officer apparently disputes due to his charges against Hart.
Legally, if the charges against Hart do not arise from unlawful conduct then the charges against Hart constitute an unlawful arrest.
While there are always two sides to every story, an infamous legacy of abuse from verbal insults to fatal shootings stains the Philadelphia Police Department’s mission of ‘protect and serve.’
Abuse of authority by Philadelphia police officers comprises the largest category of complaints lodged with this city’s Police Advisory Commission — over 80 percent of all complaints filed with the PAC since 1995 compared to the 31 percent of complaints claiming physical abuse.
Abuse of authority, as defined the PAC, includes unlawful detentions/arrests, improper searches, improper seizure of property and discriminatory or selective law enforcement.
Embedded in Hart’s July 7th encounter with police are multiple ironies.
It’s ironic that ‘The System’ pursues a pound of flesh from Hart who helps police fight crime based on a legally de minimis incident that even if the arresting officer’s worse account is accurate remains dismissive.
“I now have letters from ministers, business owners, community leaders and my city councilman praising my work in the community. I got these letters (nearly two dozen) within 48 hours to present in court,” Hart said.
“Some of those letters tell how I defend the police.”
Perhaps the ugliest irony is that another Black policeman reflexively abused another Black citizen — this time a broadcaster who’s repeatedly exposed the deep-seated discrimination still operative within the PPD.
The [alleged] mistreatment of Jeff Hart evidences the sordid circumstance of some Black police being ignorant and/or unappreciative of the long history of Black folks fighting for their police force presence in hopes that Black police would act more fairly than too many white police.
The hiring of Philadelphia’s first four Black policemen in August 1881, for example, resulted from Black leaders vigorously pushing top Philadelphia politicians of both parties for integrated policing.
The often interracial nature of police abuse disproportionately targeting Blacks evidences a prejudicial institutional culture police vigorously deny.
Since Hart pled not guilty he faces another court proceeding later this month.
Prosecutors should drop the charges against Hart because an ‘adrenaline-rush’ by Hart’s arresting officer is no excuse for abuse.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.