A coalition comprising a majority African-American groups is calling on Mayor Jim Kenney to appoint a Black woman to be Philadelphia’s next police commissioner.
Saying they are “concerned about the future direction of the Philadelphia Police Department in light of the allegations of sexual harassment in the department and the resignation of Commissioner [Richard] Ross,” the members of the Rally for Justice Coalition, a recently formed organization headed by WURD radio host and columnist Solomon Jones, issued a statement Wednesday that included several other demands.
“If the issue is that Black women are not being listened to — that they are making complaints about sexual harassment and they are being brushed aside, who better to rectify this other than a Black woman who has risen through the ranks despite being a Black woman in a white male-dominated Institution?” Jones asked.
Ross abruptly stepped down on Tuesday amid allegations that members of his department engaged in sexual harassment as well as racial and gender discrimination against Cpl. Audra McCowan, 36, and officer Jennifer Allen, 38, both African-American women.
The lawsuit claimed that Ross had a two-year relationship with McCowan that ended in 2011. However, Ross, 55, has denied the relationship.
On Tuesday, Kenney named 3-star Deputy Commissioner Christine Coulter as acting commissioner. She is also named in the lawsuit.
“Obviously there are some problems associated with that,” Jones said.
Kenney administration spokeswoman Deana Gamble said, “Mayor Kenney appreciates the input from this coalition and will consider all feedback from the community as he makes this very important appointment.”
The search for a new commissioner to head police department of the sixth-largest city in the nation will begin “soon,” the mayor said during a press conference on Wednesday.
Kenney, who appoints the commissioner, said he will seek a “diverse pool” of candidates from both within and outside of the department. Any candidate for the job also must be open to social justice reform, the mayor added.
Among its requests, Rally for Justice Coalition does not want Coulter to appoint any command-level personnel. The group wants an immediate meeting with Kenney to ensure that the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 does not “handpick” the next commissioner. The group also wants the community to be involved in police contract negotiations in 2020.
The coalition comprises the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP; the Black Clergy of Philadelphia & Vicinity; Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower & Rebuild (POWER); the Guardian Civic League; Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church Pastor Alyn E. Waller; Taylor Memorial Baptist Church Pastor G. Lamar Stewart and Jones.
Mark Kelly Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel AME Church and a member of POWER, said that an African-American woman would help the police department move past its “old boy culture.”
He pointed to the police use of stop and frisk, where officers have been found to disproportionately target African-American men.
“These are their husbands, sons and nephews that have been targeted. When you think of the culture of policing, much of this stems from the fact that we have no different perspectives,” Tyler said. “Black women have had to carry the weight associate with bad policing for years.”
He also pointed to the Plain View Project, which revealed thousands of racist, violent and offensive Facebook posts made by hundreds of Philadelphia police officers. The department moved to fire 13 of the officers who posted remarks, but seven of them opted to retire.
Jones said that Rally for Justice Coalition would present the names of African-American women it thought were “highly qualified” to take Ross’ place, though he did not provide names of any candidates when asked.
Robin Wimberly, deputy commissioner of professional services for the Philadelphia police department, is now highest ranking African-American woman on the force. The next four highest-ranking Black women are Chief Inspector Cynthia Dorsey, Inspector Altovise Love-Craighead, Staff Inspector Jacqueline Bailey-Davis and Staff Inspector Deborah Francis.