Imagine being surrounded 24 hours a day by uber-violent hood rats whom you know will remorselessly kill you, a family member or a loved one for snitching.
Now, imagine that this is only half of the story.
The other side of the coin is that your fear of some police — sworn to protect you from the aforementioned super predators — is wholly legitimate.
For thousands of African Americans in Philadelphia and other large cities, this is a part of life: poor, Black and trapped in unforgiving neighborhoods plagued by drugs, the hyper-violent people who control this illicit business, gangs and the perception that you don’t know which police officers are good or bad.
I thought about this last week when the National Action Network‘s Philadelphia chairwoman, Paula Peebles, implicated an unnamed Philadelphia police officer and his son as players in the city’s illegal gun market.
“There are police officers that are selling guns to young African Americans in the city of Philadelphia,” Peebles said last week. “I know this because NAN is dealing with a matter currently where a young African-American man was sold a gun by a white police officer’s son, with a silencer. And when he was not able to come up with all the money and refused to give him the gun back, he went to his daddy and his daddy has a bounty of police officers looking for this young man to try to retrieve the gun.”
Peebles did not provide any specific details about when or where this occurred or what the bounty might be, opening the door to questions about the veracity of her comments.
That said, I’m not the only one unwilling to summarily dismiss what Peebles said.
“Paula Peebles, over the years, has been a credible source,” City Councilman Curtis Jones told The Philadelphia Tribune. “If what she is alleging is true, it is deeply disturbing and could be deeply damaging to the level of trust between the community and the Philadelphia police force.”
I was at that meeting at Christian Stronghold Baptist Church and heard the stunning allegation. I reached out to Peebles earlier this week for further clarity. She said she remains in contact with the family of the young man, who no longer lives with them.
She says the family is unwilling to come forward because, like so many other Blacks, “they are terrified of the police.”
A police spokesman said he had heard nothing of Peebles’ allegations, but added that the proper course of action was to bring it to the police or the Police Advisory Council, the independent agency that analyzes and reviews police departments policies, practices and procedures.
To that, Peebles says that many African Americans trapped in our worst neighborhoods are so mistrustful of the police that they simply won’t reach out to “anything that has police” in its name.
I’ve heard this from any number of African Americans in the city. And if it’s true — and I am not here to further shush marginalized Black people — then this is the worst type of environment possible, one that punishes you for snitching on hoodlums and places you at odds with the police, those supposed to be the last line of defense.
While it is unfair to paint any group with broad strokes, it was just last year that the Plain View Project revealed that more than 330 Philadelphia police officers had made racist, sexist, homophobic and Islamophobic posts on social media.
And it wasn’t long ago that the ACLU sued the majority white police departments in New York City and Philadelphia, arguing that officers’ use of stop-and-frisk targeted and unjustly punished Black and Brown people.
Need I remind you of the always-expanding list of Black people dying under suspicious circumstances as a result of interactions with the police?
Six years ago there was 43-year-old Eric Garner, a father of six and grandfather of three whose death by strangulation at the hands of white New York City officer Daniel Pantaleo was caught on video. That same year, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by Cleveland officer Timothy Loehmann as he played with a toy gun. Five years ago, Freddie Gray, 25, entered a police vehicle in Baltimore and exited from it in a coma and later died.
More recently, Botha Jean, 26, an accountant, was fatally shot while at rest on his couch, in his apartment, by white police officer Amber Guyger in 2018. And just last year, 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson was shot and killed in her Fort Worth home by white police officer Aaron Dean as she played video games with her nephew. And very soon, fired white Philly officer Ryan Pownall, accused of fatally shooting 30-year-old David Jones in 2017, will be tried for his murder.
The common thread in these situations is the race of the victims and the race of the officer. Taken in their totality, is it really that difficult to see how cops can come to be perceived as being as lethal and dangerous as the criminals holding communities of color hostage?
Not if you are poor, Black and living under racism’s incessant cudgeling.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and do not represent the opinions of the Tribune.