In 2017, the City of Philadelphia signed a three-year contract with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), which is the labor union representing police officers (and sheriffs). That contract includes something called a “grievance arbitration” clause establishing a procedure through the pro-cop American Arbitration Association that has financially and administratively rewarded up to 90 percent of the officers who kill unarmed people, brutalize innocent strangers, and batter domestic partners- not to mention the cops who commit sexual assault and the cops who don't testify in court but instead “testalie” in court, which means committing perjury.
As a wise person once said, “The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.” So let's start at the root. Municipal police departments, as they are now known, began as slave patrols. In fact, the first official one started in 1704 in the Colony of Carolina and then spread throughout the South until 1865. The laws creating those patrols required white men to ride the roads and- as documented by Western Michigan University history professor Dr. Sally Hadden in her book entitled Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas- engage in the “monitoring… [of] rigid pass requirements for blacks…, breaking up large gatherings… of blacks, … searching slave quarters randomly, [and] inflicting impromptu punishments….”
Fast forward to 1979 when Philadelphia became the first city in the country to be sued by the U.S. Justice Department for committing and condoning “widespread and severe” acts of police misconduct. Human Rights Watch reported in 1998 that the “Philadelphia police department [in terms of]… brutality… has one of the worst reputations of big city… departments in the United States. Moreover, the persistence… of the [brutality and corruption] cycles indicate that between the front-page news stories, the City and its police force are failing… to hold… police accountable. The result is an undisturbed culture of impunity that surfaces and is renewed with each successive scandal, as each new generation of police officers is taught through example that their leadership accepts corruption and excessive force.”
If you want irrefutable proof of the fact that the current City contract with the FOP rewards cops who kill and brutalize innocent people, consider- in my personal opinion- the following examples:
- On May 14, 2015, Narcotics Field Unit Police Officers Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts, Linwood Norman, and John Speiser were incredibly and inexplicably found not guilty in federal court (by a predominantly white suburban jury) despite very strong evidence from civilian witnesses and a police witness that those cops routinely engaged in outrageous brutality and corruption. And it wasn’t just those witnesses who provided that strong evidence. It was also the pro-cop District Attorney Seth Williams' Office that requested and a Common Pleas Court judge who granted the reversal of nearly 500 drug convictions that those six officers were directly or indirectly tied to. Even the U.S. Attorney’s office presented testimony that those cops stole money, planted evidence, viciously beat up people while sadistically keeping score on which cop could cause the most serious injuries, violated constitutional rights, lied on police reports, threatened to seize homes, held people for days against their will in hotel rooms, and shockingly dangled at least one person over a balcony. Even former Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who suspended then fired all of them, described this entire situation as “one of the worst cases of corruption I have ever seen.” And he had been in law enforcement for 47 years! Moreover, both he and the FOP have separately noted that 90 percent of fired cops get their jobs back as a result of the City's FOP arbitration contract. And 75 percent of that 90 percent get full back pay, meaning paid vacations.
In fact, less than two months later on July 10, 2015, it was announced that, despite such evidence and action by the civilians, the DA, the judge, the federal prosecutor, and the police commissioner, those aforementioned six officers- through the City's FOP arbitration contract- got their jobs back. Oh, by the way, each one also got $90,000 in back pay.
- Officer Anthony Avery has had five civilian complains lodged against him since 2015. It gets worse. Between 2008-2014, he was sued four times. Two of them were for shooting two men to death, thereby costing the City to spend $227,000 in local taxpayer money for settlements to the victims' families.
- Lt. Jonathan Josey, during Puerto Rican Day festivities in 2012, was videotaped brutally punching a small Latinx woman named Aida Guzman in the face, bloodying her mouth and nose, and knocking her to the ground apparently because he mistakenly thought she had intentionally splashed a little water on him. The City, probably realizing that a jury might- and should- view such brutality as cowardly and misogynistic and therefore render a million dollar verdict, decided to settle Ms. Guzman's lawsuit for $75,000. Despite Josey having been suspended, fired, arrested, and charged for the vicious assault (but incredibly and inexplicably acquitted by a pro-cop judge despite the incriminating video), he was reinstated a year later with back pay.
- Officer Christopher Rudy in 1993, while hanging out and drinking with friends in a warehouse, helped one of those friends out by luring a man to that warehouse and then watched him get tortured, menaced with a gun, and threatened with homosexual rape while he personally beat the man, poured beer in his face, and ignored police radio calls, including one “officer needs assistance” call. After receiving a 12-day suspension slap on the wrist for failing to take police action, for inflicting physical abuse, for providing false statements, and for engaging in conduct unbecoming a police officer, he was returned to active duty.
- Six foot, 3 inch, 290 pound Officer Carl Holmes in 1992, after seeing a man urinating in an alley, tackled the man, kicked him, hit him in the head, slammed him into a car, and stepped on his penis. I should mention that the man was a kidney patient who was six inches shorter and 100 pounds lighter than Holmes. His 20-day suspension was reduced to five, and he was later promoted to lieutenant.
The City's contract with the FOP is the result of unnecessary and counterproductive concessions stemming from a state law known as Legislative Act 111 of 1968. That act allows a civilian arbitrator from the American Arbitration Association to “ignore findings of fact” regarding brutality, corruption, and other misconduct deemed founded by Internal Affairs Division (IAD) and the Police Board of Inquiry (PBI). The act also allows the arbitrator to “reject the punishment” assessed by IAD and PBI “even if the facts as charged have been proven.” For more information about the brutality/corruption-enabling arbitration act, read a powerful and meticulous legal analysis by the Philadelphia Bar Association regarding the act’s inherent and intentional flaws. It can be found at https://powerinterfaith.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Arbitrations-of-Philadelphia-Police-Discipline-2002-article.pdf. Although it was written in 2002, it is remarkably timely and prescient in 2020.
It must be noted that even though the City's FOP contract stems from a state law, the killing/brutality-rewarding arbitration clause of that contract is not mandated by that law. In other words, that clause can be renegotiated (or litigated if necessary) like any clause at the expiration of any contract. After all, every contract is based on three essential elements: offer, acceptance, and consideration. Therefore, the City must choose to no longer accept the rewarding of cops who kill and brutalize innocent people.
Here are three easy ways to end such killings and brutality (as well as corruption and the racist/classist form of Stop & Frisk):
1. The City must renegotiate its killing/brutality-rewarding contract with the FOP before the June deadline and remove all language that condones and especially rewards such misconduct.
2. A state law must be immediately passed to abolish the system that not only allows but rewards cops who kill and brutalize innocent people and engage in corruption- i.e., Legislative Act 111 of 1968. Accordingly, you must demand that each Philadelphia-based state legislator introduce or co-sponsor legislation to abolish it. In addition, you must demand that the Mayor, the Police Commissioner, the District Attorney, the Sheriff, each City Council member, and each Philadelphia-based congressperson officially and publicly go on record via resolutions, proclamations, or formal office correspondence fully endorsing such proposed abolition. For information regarding the name and phone number of each of the pertinent local, state, and federal elected officials, call the Committee of Seventy at (215) 557-3600.
3. A state and federal law should be passed to make individual police officers personally liable (along with the city government's deep pockets) for their own killing and brutalizing of innocent people, thereby requiring that at least half of their own salary be garnished to pay a portion of any civil judgments/settlements in connection with meritorious wrongful death and brutality lawsuits.
For detailed information about how to end the City's killing/brutality-rewarding contract with the FOP long before the June deadline, do two things. The first is to sign a petition drafted by POWER, an influential progressive faith-based activist organization. That petition can be found at https://act.colorofchange.org/sign/philly-fop-accountability/
The second is to attend an upcoming public meeting sponsored by Avenging The Ancestors Coalition (ATAC) on Monday, Feb. 17 at 7 p.m. at Zion Baptist Church, Broad and Venango streets.