Two children, ages 10 and 2, were among the latest victims of senseless gun violence in the Point Breeze section of Philadelphia Tuesday night — an incident that started as a fight between young people and escalated into a potentially deadly confrontation.
Tuesday’s shooting started around 7:30 p.m. and was the latest incident involving blazing guns and innocent children caught in the crossfire. Tuesday’s incident mirrors an earlier shooting last Sunday in which a 6-year-old girl was struck by a bullet.
Among those wounded Tuesday night where 59-year-old Andrea Cooper, who was struck in the leg, her granddaughter 2-year-old Aisha Owens, wounded in the stomach and hand and Cooper’s grandson, 10-year-old Siyir Owens, who was also struck in the right leg. Another 25-year-old male was also wounded in the finger.
Aisha Owens remains in critical condition as of Tribune press time. The other victims are in stable condition and are expected to recover.
Investigators said that what sparked the shooting was a brawl between at least three girls who are students at South Philadelphia High School — a fight stemmed from an unruly Facebook posting back in July.
“This started behind some nonsense at South Philadelphia High School,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who was at the scene of the crime. “Basically it was a fight between some girls that spilled over onto the streets. At least two of the girls went to a house in the 1200 block of South Bucknell Street where one of the girls, a 14-year-old they were fighting with, was staying with her grandparents.
According to Ramsey, the two girls brought a group of men along with them and managed to force their way into the home.
“They started a physical confrontation, some males arrived with some sticks, golf clubs, so it continued into a physical confrontation,” Ramsey said. “They literally forced their way into the home and then tried to force the 14-year-old female out. Some other guys in the neighborhood came to see what was happening and that was when the males in both groups began shooting. We’re just really fortunate that no one was killed. It had nothing to do with Wall Street going up or down, I can tell you that. It was some dumb crap that they were fighting over that means absolutely nothing — and now we’re talking about a 2-year-old who is in surgery because of these ignorant people who are out here.”
Police say they are looking for a suspect described as a Black male, 25 to 30 years old, 6 feet tall with a heavy build, about 210 pounds. The second gunman is described as a Black male in his early 20s with a dark complexion.
“There have been several shootings in this community lately, and all of them have been tragic and senseless,” said state Representative Kenyatta Johnson. “I understand that this latest incident started at South Philadelphia High School, which one of the reasons why I’ve been aggressive on dealing with school violence — it always spills over into the surrounding community and usually escalates. Although the identities of the gunmen aren’t known yet, I know the police are aggressively working on this case — but it takes the community to get involved and get involved right from the start. There was a crowd standing around watching this unfold. People need to call police right away when they see something about to jump off. This isn’t entertainment; it’s not reality television. You would think people would have called 911 and say ‘trouble is starting out here, send some officers.’ When police catch up to these two gunmen and arrest them, I hope that the sentence they’re given will put them under the jail.”
Tuesday night’s incident is just the latest where children have been wounded by gunfire in South Philadelphia. On Sunday, 6-year-old Denean Thomas was hit in the leg by a bullet. Thomas is listed in stable condition at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and police have made two arrests in that case.
The suspects have been identified as 17-year-old Charles Rice and 19-year-old Tyler Linder. Both young men have been charged with three counts of aggravated assault, conspiracy, weapons offenses, simple assault, reckless endangerment and related charges.
According to law enforcement authorities the shooting happened on September 26th at around 9:35 p.m. in the 1600 block of South 18th Street. Investigators report that a 23-year-old female, a 17-year-old male and Thomas, were sitting in front of a residence when Rice and Linder allegedly approached them, pulled out handguns and proceeded to open fire.
Their target was the 17-year-old male, whose name has not been released yet by authorities.
Police are still unraveling Sunday night’s incident but believe it was in retaliation for an earlier shooting involving two local street gangs.
“This was a turf war,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of good, hardworking people in this community, but we also have some individuals who just don’t have the community’s best interests in mind. We can’t keep them from going down that path and unfortunately, we’ll have to deal harshly with them.”
Commissioner Ramsey said that so far, there’s nothing to indicate that the shooting on Sunday night and Tuesday night’s incident were related.
“Obviously the investigation will take us where it takes us but so far, there’s nothing that indicates they were related,” he said. “Right now it does look like Sunday night’s incident was gang related.”
This week, the entire country is in heavy mourning, a spontaneous outpouring of grief we haven’t seen on a national scale since Sept. 11, 2001. Twenty small children in Connecticut, who right now should be watching “Sesame Street” and drawing pictures for display on the family refrigerator, are dead – murdered by a young man with a damaged mind and an empty soul.
The tragedy has, in turn, sparked a renewed national debate on gun control. Well, so far it hasn’t been much of a debate, since the vast majority of pro-gun lawmakers have gone into hiding. A few, like Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, have publicly called for their fellow firearms enthusiasts to accept reasonable measures to prevent future massacres.
It was also the subject of one of our great newsroom discussions, passionately led by crime reporter Larry Miller, whose story on the subject can be read here. But we here at the Tribune have been railing about gun control for years. We have watched the rising body count in our communities, followed the cases as they wind their way through the justice system, and documented the pain felt by those families left behind.
But what really got to me this week – and, I’ll admit, has shaken me to my core – is the startling realization that I find myself in complete agreement with – of all people – Rush Limbaugh. (Even typing that sentence just now made me throw up in my mouth a little bit.)
Here’s what Limbaugh said on his show Tuesday: “You guys ever been to Chicago? Do you know what happens in Chicago every night? What happens in Chicago in a week dwarfs what happened in Connecticut. Just nobody’s reporting it. There’s no cameras up there. You don’t see it.”
I could have dismissed this statement as an aberration, that like a broken clock, even Limbaugh will be right on occasion. The racist, sexist, bottom-feeding blowhard will surely follow that up with his usual stupidity, I thought.
Then it got worse. The man actually started telling the truth, and making sense.
“Have you ever heard any politician go on an anti-gun rant when you’ve heard about urban violence? Does it ever happen? I wonder why that is? Why is it the anti-gun people never use violence in urban neighborhoods as an example of why we have to get rid of guns?” he asked.
Then, the kicker. He concluded: “There are more than 41 murders a month in Chicago. The lion’s share of them are taking place in poor Black neighborhoods. I don’t hear… any of the anti-gun media raise a stink about guns in those places. I wonder why that is. There has to be a reason.”
There was no denying it then. Rush had cut to the heart of the matter with logic and reason, and I was forced to nod my head in full agreement, even finishing the thought for him.
Because I know the reason the nightly murders in Chicago, in Baltimore, in Oakland, in Detroit, and here in Philadelphia don’t rise to the level of a national tragedy. So do you. I just never thought Rush Limbaugh would be the guy to say out loud what everyone knows in their hearts.
It’s this: in the minds of far too many Americans, and for a number of very ugly reasons, the lives of those children in Chicago, Oakland and Philadelphia aren’t worth as much as the lives of the children in Newtown, Conn. They simply are not of equal value.
Some might call it an unfair comparison. They’ll argue the majority of urban victims – and shooters, for that matter –- have criminal records, and often the motive behind those shootings is crime-related. The little angels in Connecticut, on the other hand, were not gangbangers or drug dealers, but innocents slaughtered by a madman.
The comparison, however, holds up under scrutiny. There are plenty of non-combatant victims of urban violence every day – innocent bystanders, kids caught in a playground crossfire, or just some poor guy waiting for a bus - and there is no national outcry on their behalf.
To be fair, local legislators here and in cities around the country have been clamoring for firearms restrictions for many years. Their pleas inevitably fall on deaf ears, their efforts stymied by lawmakers in rural and suburban districts who represent a pro-gun constituency, and who couldn’t care less if cities become shooting galleries, as long as “those people” are the ones being shot.
If this tragedy raises those recalcitrant legislators’ level of awareness, then perhaps some good can come out of this nightmare after all.
And I can go back to hating Rush Limbaugh.
Daryl Gale is the city editor of the Philadelphia Tribune.
A Black clergywoman in Harrisburg is at the center of a developing controversy involving her and a former top-level official with the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare who allegedly blasted her verbally over a parking space.
According to Democratic state Rep. Ron Waters, who is also chairman and president of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, Rev. Norma Kenley-Barber, 66, parked her car in a space used by Philip Abromats outside the Capitol complex on July 20.
Waters said that Rev. Barber, who takes a diuretic for a heart condition, rushed in to use the restroom. When she returned she was dismayed to find that Abromats had blocked her vehicle with his state car and had also gone inside the building to call the police. When he returned she said that he verbally assaulted her and called her an “idiot.”
According to Waters, Abromats, an attorney who was the deputy secretary of income maintenance with the state Department of Public Welfare before the ill-fated encounter, wasn’t fired — instead, he was transferred to a different position with the same $125,000- plus yearly salary.
“He didn’t use the ‘N’ word, he didn’t use any racial slurs — but still, this is a white man who verbally attacked a Black female pastor who suffers from a disability. Any way you want to look at it, this is unacceptable,” Waters said. “This is inappropriate and unprofessional behavior and over what, a parking space? I’m personally outraged by this, as are other members of the Legislative Black Caucus. This kind of discriminatory behavior will not be tolerated. Was Abromats fired? No, being transferred to a different job is not being terminated — and he is still being paid over $125,000 a year, so he hasn’t really lost anything.”
In a letter sent to Gary D. Alexander, secretary of the Department of Welfare, and dated August 23, Waters inquired into the specific manner in which this incident was dealt with. Those answers, Waters said, are still forthcoming.
“As an employee of the state, one would expect a certain level of decorum to be displayed when interacting with the public,” Waters said in the letter. “It is my understanding that Mr. Abromats has been reassigned to a new position created for him as executive director of program audits and regulatory review. I am curious to know what, if any, disciplinary policy does the department have in place for employees who perform unprofessionally. What action was taken in the case of Mr. Abromats?”
According to Waters, he did meet on Wednesday, September 7, with Karen Deklinski, deputy secretary of administration at the Dept. of Public Welfare, who, despite being unable to go into the specifics of what action was to be taken with Abromats because of privacy protocols, assured him of Gary Alexander’s outrage over the incident.
“Based on what she said, because of the human resources department rules she couldn’t speak about what specific measures were going to be taken or if this would lead to termination,” Waters said. “But the parking space wasn’t his, [and] he hasn’t lost any money, so he really hasn’t been punished. I think stronger measures need to be taken regarding this.”
Alexander was unavailable for comment since the Capitol building was closed at Tribune press time due to flooding and other issues resulting from the recent heavy rains.
In recent months, Philadelphia and other major cities have seen incidents of roving mobs of teens attacking people, robbing and damaging businesses and disrupting traffic.
The violent flash mobs were in several cases organized through social media websites such as Facebook and My Space.
In response, the Nutter administration instituted a stricter curfew for minors in Center City and extended curfew boundaries from the Delaware River as far west as University City.
But the response of law enforcement has to go further in being proactive about preventing crime.
On Thursday at the Loews Hotel in Center City, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who is also president of the national Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) hosted a one-day conference on social media and policing.
The conference was attended by local, state and federal law enforcement officials from across the country, and touted as a forum for addressing the latest trends in policing and legal issues emerging as a result of modern technology. Specifically, officials are looking at how the Internet facilitates social communication, and how that technology is sometimes abused.
“But we’re also looking at how social media can be used by law enforcement,” said Josh Ederheimer, principal deputy director of COPS, Community Oriented Policing Services. COPS, which is an office of the United States Department of Justice, supports community policing in state, local, territory, and tribal law enforcement agencies. One method in doing so is through the COPS Office of Grant Programs and Funding.
“We’re looking at how to best address emerging issues of social media and the best practices of law enforcement officials,” Ederheimer said. “By convening this conference we’re hoping to gain that information. We’ve had conversations with Commissioner Ramsey and felt that Philadelphia was very responsive to these new emerging issues. Not because these incidents are occurring here all the time, but because Philadelphia’s long-term commitment to addressing the issue will help the Justice Department and PERF.”
Ramsey said it’s important that police departments become more involved in using social media websites. He pointed out that the Occupy Wall Street movement was organized through social media.
“I was out earlier with police officials from Toronto, Canada, where the protesters are planning an event soon. They wanted to see what the Occupy protesters were doing here in Philadelphia,” he said. “As we walked through their encampment, almost immediately they were texting other groups around the country – it was happening while we were there and that was very, very interesting. It’s instant communication, and it’s worldwide. We have to become more adept at using the technology. Our police department has its own active Facebook page as a way of reaching out to the community.”
One of the issues arising at the conference was how to enforce the law and be proactive in crime prevention but also respect the right of privacy and free speech.
“Police in a democratic society have a dual responsibility,” said Police Chief Edward Flynn of Milwaukee. “On the one hand we have to protect the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly, but also prevent acts of violence and protect life and property. That places unique stresses on police in democratic societies. We find out these issues are not just emerging in the United States, but in Great Britain and Canada as well. So we’re not only learning good tactics here, but also lawful and appropriate ways to develop intelligence using social media.”
Flynn indicated that police departments would be monitoring social media sites, but doing it carefully and in a Constitutionally appropriate way.
“We’re looking for key words like gun, pistol, beat-up and assault. These words are used frequently by people who want to create a violent flash mob incident,” Flynn said.
House votes to cut $83M for ex-offender rehabilitation
Many studies have been done in recent years about the rise of the prison population in America, the racial disparity that is all too evident in penal institutions and the high recidivism rate for those who have been incarcerated.
Some federal, state and local officials have seen the need to establish programs that successfully help ex-offenders reintegrate back into the communities — such as Mayor Michael Nutter’s Office of Re-Integration Services for Ex-Offenders, R.I.S.E.
But in September, the Republican controlled U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations approved a bill that would eliminate funding for the Second Chance Act, which provides resources to nonprofits, states and local government to assist previously incarcerated people re-enter communities. Instead of supporting legislation that would shrink national prison populations, the new measure would add $300 million to the federal Bureau of Prisons’ $6 billion budget.
Not surprising, the purpose of that funding would support the building of seven new prisons over the next four years.
Advocates of criminal justice reform say this policy would continue the trend of increasing incarceration and racial disparity already inherent in the criminal justice system.
“We must embrace the humanity of ex-offenders and stop this second class citizenship by those who say they are politicians, but really are prison profiteers in this new slave system of the Prison Industrial Complex,” said Chad Dion Lassiter, MSW, co-founder and president of Black Men at Penn School of Social Work, Inc. “The collapse of the Second Chance Act funding is just a continuation of the agenda of prison expansion in an era in which ex-offenders are seen as inhuman in the eyes of a racist society. We need an act of humanity and we need to eliminate these weak politicians with our vote.”
The Second Chance Act legislation was signed into law during the Bush administration on April 9, 2008. The Second Chance Act provided federal money to non-profit organizations and federal agencies working to employ ex-offenders and provide substance abuse and mental health treatment, housing and other support services to prevent recidivism.
Originally the Second Chance Act was budgeted at $100 million in fiscal year 2010, and that was reduced to $83 million this year.
“The bill eliminates funding for the Second Chance Act programs [and] throws money at our prison overpopulation problem by increasing the Bureau of Prisons’ budget while eliminating funding for a proven solution to keep people out of prison,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy. Leahy has pledged to work to restore funding when the House and Senate Appropriations Committees attempt to resolve budgetary differences.
“None of this comes as a surprise to me,” said Bilal Qayyum, Executive Director of the Father’s Day Rally Committee. “Republicans are interested in locking people up, not reducing the prison population. But this reflects how many people across the country think. Also, there is an economic component since prisons are built in rural communities and provides jobs for those areas. Republicans aren’t gung-ho about closing prisons and they don’t want people to have a second chance.”
Recently, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met with officials of the federal Re-entry Council to address ways of ensuring that those individuals returning from prison become productive, law-abiding citizens. Among the topics on the table was the $83 million in Fiscal Year 2011 funding the Department of Justice would award for Second Chance Act grants and other re-entry programs.
“We must use every tool at our disposal to tear down the unnecessary barriers to economic opportunities and independence so that formerly incarcerated individuals can serve as productive members of their communities,” Holder said in a published report. “The Department of Justice announced it is providing funding to local organizations whose critical work will reduce recidivism and victimization. At the same time, the council is ensuring these individuals and their families have the facts about federal policies and resources governing employment issues, veterans’ benefits and voting rights as they return home.”
Laurie O. Robinson, Assistant Attorney General in the DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs also announced that 131 grants were recently awarded with the $83 million appropriated by Congress in Fiscal Year 2011 for the Second Chance Act and other re-entry programs.
“The fact that we received more than 1,000 applications for Second Chance funding this year shows that states and communities around the country are working together on reentry issues and community safety,” Robinson said in a press release.
According to the Pennsylvania Prison Society, 90 percent of the present inmate population will be released back into the community at some point with at least 65 percent likely to recidivate — having committed new crimes and be re-sentenced to prison. But experts say that with proper support mechanisms such as jobs, drug and alcohol counseling and life skills development, those numbers can be greatly reduced.
“It’s everything,” said William DiMascio, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society. “While you’re in prison everything is structured; you’re told when to wake up, when to eat, when to shower. When they get released they’re basically told, ‘You’re on your own.’ They need legitimate employment; it’s essential to their self-esteem and their physical and emotional wellbeing. Since the Nutter Administration came on board there’s been a commitment to helping ex-offenders. Now they’ve had some challenges, but to their credit they have persisted. Not many people want to give you accolades for helping ex-inmates find jobs, but these people are a part of the community. We have to help them.”
DiMascio said that there are a lot of obstacles that confront ex-offenders, many of them institutionalized but there are also a lot of successful models that exist to help them and right now there is a growing recognition that ex-offenders don’t have to recidivate. Being released from prison is a big adjustment and they have to be mentally prepared for that.
“Language skills for example; many ex-offenders speak the language of the street and when you’re looking for work you have to be able to express to a prospective employer why you’re a good candidate for a job. This isn’t rocket science,” DiMascio said. He also said that improved and expanded services for ex-offenders would have a positive impact within the African-American community.
According to research conducted by the Sentencing Project, of the 2.3 million people serving time in the United States at least 60 percent are African American and other ethnic minorities. For Black males in their twenties, the figures are staggering; 1 out of 8 are in prison or jail on any given day.
“The flip side of all this is when are our young Black men going to wake up and stop behaving like fools?” asked Qayyum. “They don’t have to engage in behavior that’s going to end with a prison sentence or worse. Education has always been the key issue because education gives you the analytical skills needed to make wiser decisions. You think twice before committing a crime. Prison is not the way to go; all it does is short circuit your future. People in government who want to cut the funding for these programs know that.”
Members of District Council 47 were standing outside union offices this week to loudly express their anger toward union leadership, which they say has not forced the Nutter administration to the table to negotiate a new contract.
The very disgruntled members accused Catherine Scott, chair of AFSCME District Council 47, and other union leaders Kahim Boles, Dave Mora, Michael Walsh, Rita Urwitz and Judy Hoover of failing to negotiate a new contract with the city. They also said union officials are not providing the aggressive leadership that would have forced Mayor Michael Nutter to negotiate in good faith during the past four years.
“We haven’t had a contract in four years, and we think it’s about time that our union negotiate with Mayor Nutter. We’re saying that the union leaders and the Nutter administration are all in the same bed together,” said Victor McDavis, a social worker with Adult Protective Services. “We’re the people who help hold families together, we serve the people with special needs and we work hard. Somehow, the city doesn’t really respect us. We’re out here today because after four years our union leaders haven’t been very active in fighting for its members. There’s no way we should be working this long without a contract.”
According to McDavis and other members who were protesting outside union headquarters, Nutter is trying to contain the non-uniformed workers and is balancing the city budget on their backs. McDavis said that during the four years they’ve been without a contract, District Council 47 union officials have collected large sums of money for themselves while the rank and file members have suffered financially.
“Union President Cathy Scott took a DROP bonus of $216,992 in 2007. She also collects an annual pension each year of approximately $52,000 since going through the DROP program. She also earns over $120,000 each year as president of AFSCME District Council 47,” McDavis said. “She has her money, so she has no need to fight for the union members. The Catholic schoolteachers just got a contract. SEPTA workers got a contract and the Police and Fire Departments negotiated and received a contract. The tactics our officials are using are putting us in a position where the city is not taking us seriously. They’re dragging their feet and Mayor Nutter knows the current leaders don’t have the courage to confront him.”
Union member Lauren Tucker, who has been a city social worker for five years, said the current union officials, who she described as sellouts, need to resign.
“When we ask them why they haven’t been to the negotiating table, their response is, ‘Be happy you have a job,’” she said. “That’s the consensus were getting from them, they’re not helping the membership and not really explaining what’s going on. They say they’re working on it. Am I angry? Yes. It’s very frustrating, I can’t get a step increase and I’m stuck at the same level. They’re getting our dues — I feel we need a contract.”
During the protest, Kahim Boles, president of AFSCME District Council 47's Local 2187, invited the angry union members to come into the offices and discuss their issues with the leadership. The members refused.
“No, we want the public to see that we’re not being treated fairly,” said city social worker Ana Guzman. “There’s going to be a meeting between the leadership and members on Friday and we’ll talk then. The public needs to be informed. We’ve been working without a contract for four years. Under our old contract it states we’re supposed to get step increases. We haven’t received them. In four years the leadership can’t get us a contract?”
Union leadership did, however, agree to speak with the Tribune. District Council 47 chair Catherine Scott said the protesting city workers represented a small group and that most of the membership agrees with the tactics union leaders are using.
“We’re maintaining the status quo while trying to bring the Nutter administration to the negotiating table,” she said. “I would suggest these are union members who don’t come to meetings and are not involved in the discussion about negotiations and the challenges we’re facing. I have spoken with our members on a regular basis and they agree with what we’re doing.”
Contracts with all four of the city’s unions expired in 2008. Nutter, who came into office during the economic meltdown, managed to get the unions to agree to one-year contracts. The reason for this was so that his administration could study the city’s rising pension and healthcare costs. In that time, the recession worsened and the union contracts, with the exception of the Fraternal Order of Police, expired in 2009. Nutter is calling for pension and healthcare reform and changes in the work rules, asking union members to take unpaid furloughs to help balance the city’s budget.
Scott said she will not agree to Nutter’s proposals.
“The mayor’s proposals would result in members losing 30 percent of their current pay and no raises for the life of the contract,” she said. “Plus, there would be reductions in the amount of money that the health and welfare fund receives to provide benefits. The membership would have even more out-of-pocket expenses than they have now. Mayor Nutter wants to reduce the money the city pays into the fund from $976.00 per person per month to $900.00. That doesn’t include the 30 percent pay reduction. Right now, members aren’t losing any wages.”
Scott said she has had discussions with the membership on a consistent basis and they agree with the current strategy. Of course there are some members who don’t, she said, and there’s no support for them among the unions.
Kahim Boles, president of Local 2187, agreed. He also said the membership backs the current strategy of maintaining the status quo. He said the mayor can’t implement any reductions with the way things stand.
“There are six people out there protesting right now. I invited them to come in and they don’t want to,” he said. “Local 2187 has almost 2,700 members, so do the math. What they want is to do what they’re doing outside. We’ve been ready to talk with Mayor Nutter at any time but we’re not going to step away from our position. If we do, the only other option is to strike and no one wants to see that happen. Yes, we need a contract but we’re not going to engage in concession bargaining.”
Scott said that, yes, she understands the frustration exhibited by the protesting members — and the union membership in general. But she’s not going to hurt the workers by agreeing to the mayor’s proposed givebacks.
“Would I like to have a contract with the city? Absolutely. But I am not going to hurt my membership by concession bargaining — moving from a position where the mayor is asking for 30 percent of their wages. In my opinion, no credible union leader would do that,” she said.
Nutter administration spokesman Mark McDonald said the mayor is ready to negotiate with District Council 47 and District Council 33.
“He stands ready to negotiate with the unions,” McDonald said. “However, he’s made it clear that he needs pension and healthcare reform. He’s proposing changes in the work rules that include the right to furlough employee for a one week unpaid vacation. The mayor has made it clear that he wants a contract that is fair to the workers and fair to the taxpayers. It’s worth noting that we have, over the last few months, seen disturbing signs over the inflow of sales taxes and changes in the stock markets that affect the pension fund. We could be looking at a double-dip recession.”
Tim Patrick, who has been a city worker for 14 years, said he’s angry because the city can find money whenever they want.
“Arlene Ackerman got her money, they’re spending hundreds of thousands in overtime for the police to stay on the streets looking for flash mobs,” he said. “You have to make the mayor negotiate. Our union leaders just won’t do that. They won’t fight for us; all they do is collect our dues. Of course they won’t fight for us — they’re in bed with the very people we’re fighting against.”
As the investigation into the killing of two teens who were shot to death while riding a stolen ATV continues, the issue of illegally operated all-terrain vehicles remains.
The ATVs speed through residential neighborhoods during the warmer months — up and down 52nd Street and along Baltimore Avenue in West Philly, near Broad and Washington Avenue in South Philly, in North Philly, in Kensington, in Germantown and in most other neighborhoods in the city. The operators are popping wheelies and darting in and out of traffic — and don’t wear protective helmets. They’re illegal to drive on city streets, and law enforcement authorities and city officials say their proliferation is becoming a real problem, not just because they are illegal, but also because, like the one in Monday night’s double murders, a great many ATVs in Philadelphia are unregistered — and stolen.
Is there anything that can be done to deal with the problem? Because of their proliferation in the city — and they are all over the city — is there a black market for them? Why don’t the police just chase them down?
“We’re seeing them much earlier because of the warmer weather,” said Deputy Commissioner Kevin Bethel. “They’re very mobile vehicles, and the guys who are operating them know it’s illegal to drive them on the streets. They know, but they just don’t care; these guys have no fear. And most of them are unregistered.”
According to statistics from the website ATVSafety.gov, in Pennsylvania, between 1982 and 2010 there were 521 reported deaths related to ATVs. Information supplied by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission shows that the number of 4-wheel ATVs in use across the nation has increased from just over 2 million to more than 6.9 million over the past decade. Nationally, from 1982 through 2004, there were almost 6,500 deaths involving ATVs and 115,000 injuries in 2010. About 30 percent of all deaths and injuries from ATV accidents involve children younger than 16.
In Pennsylvania, there are a number of regulations regarding the operation of ATVs:
• No ATV shall be operated without a lighted headlight and taillight from ½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise.
• All ATVs must be titled and registered, with the owner receiving one numbered plate.
• Registration is to be renewed once every two years.
• No one under age 8 shall operate an ATV on state-owned land.
• No one between ages 8 and 15 may operate an ATV unless on a parent’s land or in possession of a safety training certificate.
• No one under 16 years old may cross a highway or operate an ATV on designated roads unless in possession of a safety certificate and with an adult 18 or older.
• ATV use on any street or highway is prohibited, except to cross and except for roads designated as ATV roads.
Bethel said he wasn’t aware of any black market organization keeping ATVs on the streets, but there is no shortage of them, and it is a fact that 99 percent of them are stolen.
“Almost all of them are stolen and there is no shortage of them. They are a growing problem for us because it’s just too dangerous to pursue them, according to the Police Pursuit Directive because they’re just too mobile. The last thing we want is to be chasing some of them and the drivers decide to run up on the sidewalks. It’s just too reckless; however, we do get them. In some patrol districts they have strategies for boxing them in — and of course, we confiscate them. I don’t know the success rate for returning them, but as fast as we take them off the streets there are more of them. The thieves just head out to the suburbs and steal them. Now the public can help us with this. They have to be stored somewhere, in warehouses or garages; they have launch points and if people know where those spots are, they should call us so we can get them. They’re just unsafe to run on the streets.”
The victims of Monday’s double murders have been identified as Dexter Bowie, 17, of the 3000 block of North 8th Street and Johnathan Stokely, 18, of the 3100 block of North Darien Street. Bowie was fatally shot in the head and body and was pronounced dead at the scene at 8:10 p.m., according to Philadelphia Police Department spokesperson Officer Jillian Russell. Stokely was hit by gunfire multiple times and was pronounced dead at Temple University Hospital a short time later.
The ATV they were running was stolen from northern Pennsylvania, according to investigators.
The shooting happened in the 2900 block of North 9th Street at 7:54 p.m. while the teens were riding an ATV that had been reported stolen. Investigators said so far the evidence points to the fact that the pair had been targeted by a still unknown shooter or shooters. The motive has not yet been determined yet.
According to Capt. James Clark, crime scene investigators recovered more than 30 shell casings from the location; shell casings from an AK47 assault rifle and a 9mm handgun. Clark also confirmed that both teens had a history of arrests; Stokley had six prior arrests and Bowie had three.
A $40,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.
“We try to get intelligence as to where and when these guys are operating these vehicles; then we corral them and take the ATVs. Beyond that, we don’t want to endanger the operator or anyone else because they’re going to take off if chased by the police,” said Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison. “What we’re developing now is community partners and cooperation from the gas stations — they have to gas up someplace. As to where stolen ATVs can be stored, there are a lot of garages and other storage spaces. There’s no shortage of space.”
State Rep. already has big plans for Sheriff’s Office
Barring the advent of Superman himself into the political arena, Democratic state Representative Jewell Williams has little doubt that he will become the next sheriff of the city of Philadelphia.
He’s confident, and seems resolute about his goals to bring a higher degree of transparency into a department that for a very long time has been under intense scrutiny. But Williams also has little doubt that some of his intentions will likely make enemies of longtime political insiders.
He indicated as much during an editorial board meeting at the Tribune offices yesterday.
“I can tell you right now, there are going to be some major changes in personnel. Some of the patronage people who are doing a bad job are going to be terminated,” Williams said. “If their political patrons have a problem, well, they can come to me. But there are going to be some changes. I intend to see that the antiquated computer system is upgraded to the point where transactions are posted online by the very next day.”
In the May Democratic primaries, Williams received 77,000 votes, and a host of heavyweight supporters threw their influence behind him. Union leaders Pete Matthews of AFSCME D.C. 33 and Sam Staten Jr. of Laborers’ Local 332 have pledged their support. So have state Rep. Cherelle Parker and Philadelphia City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell.
Also, Williams is no stranger to the Sheriff’s Office. He served as Chief of Criminal Operations in the Office from 1994 to 2000.
“There really aren’t too many problems with the Criminal Operations aspect, but on the real estate side there are some issues,” he said. “[City Controller] Alan Butkovitz is expected to release the findings of the forensic audit of the Sheriff’s Office in the first week of November. It’s going to be very interesting to see what they’ve found.”
In 2010, City Controller Alan Butkovitz raised questions over a failure by the Sheriff’s Office to cooperate with his auditors over requested financial documents. Butkovitz launched a full-scale forensic audit of 11 custodial accounts under the Sheriff’s purview, estimated at $53 million dollars.
Because the Sheriff’s Office did not comply with the auditors, concerns were raised over the potential for fraud.
“My auditors identified a number of ‘red flags’ that suggest a heightened risk for improprieties with respect to the Sheriff’s Office’s handling of its custodial accounts valued at approximately $53 million,” said Butkovitz, in the letter to former sheriff John Green.
In January of this year, Green resigned his position as sheriff after 22 years in office.
Recently, as a result of the financial audit, $50 million was found sitting in numerous bank accounts under the Office’s name. That money had been accumulating for years. After Green’s resignation, Barbara Deeley took over as Acting Sheriff. She fired several employees and reassigned the director who handles property sales.
Williams said his election as sheriff isn’t about shaking up the status quo — it’s about bringing much needed reform to the department. Some of the established community programs are going to continue, he said.
“I intend to continue with the Office’s Mortgage Foreclosure Prevention programs and the related town hall meetings,” he said. “We should continue to work with homeowners to keep their properties. I think that’s one of the ways to build stability in communities. I also intend to hold the banks accountable for what they aren’t doing in our communities. They spend millions on promotions; we need to start reinvesting that money into the communities where the depositors come from.”
In November 2000, Williams won election to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to serve the 197th Legislative District. In the House, Williams has introduced legislation for the protection and advocacy of senior citizens, and has co-sponsored many measures to improve the quality of life for all Pennsylvanians. During his tenure, he has gained the respect of his colleagues as a true ambassador and coalition builder. Currently, he serves as Deputy Whip of the House of Democratic Caucus. He also serves on the following committees: Aging and Older Adult Services; Appropriations, where he is chairman of the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice; Children and Youth; Committee on Ethics; Policy, where he serves as vice chair and Rules. He is the chairman of the Philadelphia Delegation of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and a member of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus. Rep. Williams is the Democratic Ward leader of the 16th Ward of the Democratic City Committee in Philadelphia and 1st vice chairman of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators Rules Committee.
Philadelphia police beat a blind man!
A man legally blind in both eyes beaten after attacking an officer during a nighttime police investigation into a suspected drug deal where officers did not recover any drugs or money normally involved in drug deals?
Philadelphia police officials are investigating this “alleged” August assault on Darrell Holloway in West Philly that left the 22-year-old blind man facing a slew of traditional attack-on-cops charges, according to an article by Philadelphia Tribune crime reporter Larry Miller and other media coverage.
Eyewitnesses refute police claims of Holloway attacking an officer.
Police contend this blind man apparently utilizes some kind of super-human radar/sonar enabling his targeting capabilities for battering a cop he couldn’t see.
Police officials contend Holloway punched an officer who was detaining him, leading to a violent scuffle where two officers sustained minor injuries.
During that scuffle (get this) when other officers separated the attacking Holloway from his arresting officer, Holloway charged after the arresting officer — again the blind man seeing enough to see where the arresting officer was — in the dark.
Holloway’s attorney told the Tribune’s Miller that a police officer grabbed his client, slammed Holloway on a car and started punching him.
A Philadelphia Municipal Court judge, despite questioning the lack of eyesight angle, bound Holloway over for trial on the charges filed by the police instead of (courageously) exercising her judicial powers to toss those seemingly fabricated assault-on-cop charges into the dismissed trash bin.
A cell phone video of the incident, that is too dark to reliably see what is happening, does contain distinctive audio of eyewitnesses shouting, telling police that Holloway is blind including one man who issued the “he’s-blind” notice twenty times during one minute/eleven-seconds.
The audio on that video contains eyewitness comments like “Why you hitting a blind man” — “He hit a F-ing blind man” and “This is crazy!”
Questionable court procedures kept evidence/eyewitnesses countering police claims against Holloway from that municipal court proceeding thus setting up the expense and court-system clutter of a Common Pleas Court trial or out-of-court resolution.
Sadly, this “alleged” beating of a blind man is not an isolated incident for Philadelphia police who continue their perverse patterns of brutality that stretch back into the late decades of the 1800s.
The Pittsburgh Courier newspaper in its July 4, 1931 edition reported a Philadelphia incident where a Philly police captain and three officers beat a Black man with a rubber hose and then denied it claiming “the man struck (the captain) with a policeman’s club.”
As respected Philadelphia Tribune editor/journalist Eustace Gay wrote in a December 1950 commentary, “Philadelphia policemen know only one thing when handling certain types of citizens — the use of the club, unnecessary physical force, brutality…”
One discernable distinction between Philly police abuse during most of the 20th century and that in the 21st century is that the top police officials now offering explanations (and/or excuses) are Black.
Policing is dangerous business as evidenced by the recent fatal stabbing of a veteran police officer in Delaware while responding to what was initially logged a disorderly conduct call.
The law gives police latitude to employ force necessary to handle the often violent and/or recalcitrant suspects they encounter. Most fair minded members of the public accept the common sense reality of police having such latitude.
Problems arise, particularly for persons of color, when police abuse that latitude as a license for brutal I’m-the-LAW-F-U abuse — abuse that’s blindly accepted by police officials, prosecutors, politicians and judges.
Misconduct by cops extends beyond the borders of Philadelphia across America and across the Atlantic.
Juan Gonzalez, the renowned New York Daily News columnist and Democracy Now co-host, recently wrote about NYC’s finest roughing up and handcuffing a NYC Councilman after disregarding the City Council ID that dreadlock-wearing Councilman produced for police.
In August, paralleling the Philly police assault on Holloway, destructive and deadly riots rocked London triggered by yet another police abuse incident.
Those riots around London and across England erupted during a peaceful protest at a North London police station over the fatal police shooting of a young Black man when police clubbed a 16-year-old female protestor who — allegedly — threw something at police.
Since those August riots four other men have died in the custody of British police, London activist Cristel Amiss said during an interview last week.
“Police won’t investigate charges of rape but they will send a dozen police on armed raids against sex workers. This is wrong,” said Amiss, who works with the Black Women’s Rape Action Project. “These killings are like genocide against us.”
The standard response for addressing police misconduct is “better training.”
Tribune editor Gay’s 1950 column called for training police in “human relations.”
Despite the value of enhanced training, an effective counter to persistent misconduct by police is treating law-breaking officers as criminals. Assault is a crime and those committing the crime of assault are criminals.
“Make it a basic rule that any officer found guilty of unnecessary brutality will be immediately dismissed from the police force,” Philadelphia Tribune columnist Dorothy Anderson wrote in a June 1960 article.
Forty years later state elected official LeAnna Washington proposed a similar approach in July 2000 calling for the prosecution of brutal officers “to the fullest extent of state and federal law.”
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.
What happens to the more than 20,000 youths currently in foster care when they reach age 18 and max out of the system? Do they move on to prosperous lives as contributing members of society?
Sadly, and perhaps predictably, the answer to that question is no. According to experts, concerned lawmakers and officials at the Department of Human Services, too many young people end up homeless — where they are at risk of becoming criminals, victims of crime or living with mental health problems.
“These young people are at risk of being unemployed, early parenthood, and they have exceptionally high rates of incarceration. They also present a higher risk of becoming homeless when they age out of the system, at least 12 to 30 percent higher,” said state Senator LeAnna Washington at a public hearing on the issue. The public hearings, held by the Senate Aging and Youth Committee on Foster Care-Aging Out: Options and Obstacles was held on Wednesday at the Claudia Cohen Hall on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.
Washington, who is Democratic Chair of the committee, said it’s all too easy to forget how much support these youths need. Basically, once they age out of the system, many of them have no place to go. Washington, among others at the legislative level, would like for state support to continue until these young people reach age 21 and are more prepared for the challenges of being on their own.
“My biggest challenge was figuring out what to do since I was on my own,” said Braheem Farmer, who has been in foster care since age 8. He just aged out of the system a few days ago.
“My biggest struggle was not being prepared,” Farmer said. “I mean the system doesn’t really prepare us for that. I didn’t have a plan; I didn’t even think I needed a plan. Being in the system didn’t help me in learning how to be a man; I learned how to fall into the wrong crowd.”
Farmer’s testimony was echoed by other young men and women who also maxed out of the system and made statements during the hearing. Sen. Washington said there are numerous organizations already in place to help these youths, but in many instances, they’re not communicating with each other — making it all too easy for these young people to fall through the cracks.
“We have an obligation to them, and the dots are simply not being connected, for whatever reason,” Washington said. “We owe these kids.”
According to the latest statistical information, provided by Ken Mullner, Executive Director of the National Adoption Center and the Adoption Center of the Delaware Valley, more than 50 percent of these young people will experience homelessness. At least 25 percent will not earn a high school diploma, and less than 2 percent will earn a college degree. Fifty percent will be unemployed, 33 percent will have to receive public assistance; and more than 50 percent will be incarcerated at some point.
“As a group, they are more likely to become drug addicted, experience mental illness and become the victims of violent crime. It doesn’t have to be that way,” Mullner said. “Unfortunately, just last year, nearly 30,000 teenagers aged out of foster care without finding a permanent family, leaving them to fend for themselves.”
Jennifer Pokemper, Esq., Supervising Attorney with the Juvenile Law Center, said one of her greatest concerns for these at-risk youth is that, in terms of their susceptibility to fall into criminal behavior, no one really know how many of them that there are.
“How many of Philly’s criminals are the dumped children of the foster care system? And let’s be honest, when we say there were emancipated, they didn’t have shackles on their feet. They were dumped. How many were in foster care? Youths leaving foster care at age 18 are not ready to live on their own. There are federal dollars to help them, but it’s not enough.”
To push legislative remedies to address these problems in Pennsylvania, Sen. Washington, along with several colleagues, have crafted two proposals: Senate Bill 170 and 171. The proposals would extend the support of the state for these young people, since, the experts testified, evidence shows few people are ready to be on their own at age 18.
Dr. Charles A. Williams of Drexel University, and a member of the Community Oversight Board for the Department of Human Services is a former foster youth. He readily admits he was blessed to have not fallen into the pits that so many maxed out youth trip into. He also said that what the system is currently doing is not working.
“I was in foster care and aged out,” Williams said. Fortunately I avoided some of the pitfalls, thank God, but far too many of these youths don’t. We have to face the truth; we took these kids out of their homes because they were abused, or molested or raped. We took them out and those who wound up in the system were worse off than when they went in. We have to change that, and we can. When a mother wants to see if her toddler can walk she stands behind him. When he can propel himself forward, she knows. We need proof that these children can walk, that what we’re doing for them is working. Right now, it’s not. The fact is, the longer they stay in foster care, the worse they get.”