Friday, May 09, 2008

Current Events: Philadelphia

Working in Philadelphia amongst many wonderful black colleagues, you will oftentimes find yourself in enlightening discussions about race. In lieu of Sergeant Liczbinski being slain earlier this week in the line of duty and the next day's horrific police brutality, the topic of race can come up almost constantly.

Today was Liczbinski's funeral essentially next door at Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral. The events of the day unfolded much as they did back in November for Officer Cassidy's funeral after he was slain upon entering a Dunkin Donuts for his morning coffee. Thousands of police officers from around the tri-state area, and some from even farther, flooded the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and surrounding area. A live feed was provided from within the Cathedral.

Upon walking in to work this morning I was faced with yet again photos from the beating laid down on three black men earlier this week in all the newspapers. I carefully commented and wondered aloud to two of my black colleagues that the suspects had just shot three men. Although the beating was excessive, isn't trying to murder three people also excessive? Isn't this beating in at least some way, justified? We all felt the same way.

Well, it turns out that these three men may not have been the men that had just tried to shoot three other men on a street corner. It's much more plausible (and the investigation is still pending) that the police mistook one of the gentleman for the at-large accomplice to the Lizcbinski slaying and jumped to some terrible conclusions. The whole shooting suspect thing: a mere cover-up for a case of mistaken identity.

In talking to my two colleagues this morning, I was tremendously enlightened to what being a black parent in this city entails. Ken's son was visiting from Atlanta this week and he expressed the constant fear of his son being in town out and about while the entire Philadelphia police force looked for the at-large accomplice. He said he found himself checking in on his son hourly and couldn't sleep at night until his son was safely inside the house.

Toni told me of her son's experiences this week. Apparently, many times this week he had been out on the street hanging out with his friends and police would roll up, get out of their cars and stand and stare, trying to figure out if one of them was Eric Floyd, the wanted suspect. They would finally come to a conclusion that they were not who they were looking for and move on.

According to Toni, the goal of a black parent in this city is to get their child to see the age of 30, "but you don't stop worrying about them until they're 65." Ken nodded his head in agreement the entire time.

I think a lot of people are intimidated by the topic of race and especially racism. In my personal experience, my questions and curiosities are welcomed by my black colleagues. I think knowledge and understanding is key and I'm big on questions.

The conversations continued at length over the day and overall, I'm grateful to have been a part of them. Philadelphia is a difficult place. You can live here quite happily I'm sure if you maintain a level of ignorance, but being aware can make you very sad and very confused. I don't always understand why some people choose to live in a bubble and have no clue what goes on outside, but I do understand the results - a more blissful existence.

As an addendum, today I was greatly saddened and angered. Ken and I were outside when we looked over and saw a Paterson, NJ police officer urinating in the middle of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. And laughing. And the four officers with him were laughing. A homeless man walked by and mentioned to me and Ken that we should call the police. This man clearly was also angered by the spectacle (although what he said clearly has an ounce of humor).

Ken refused to look again. Ken refuses to look at police officers in general and he's explained this to me on many occasions. "Jess, if I only told you half the shit about how officers treat black men in this city!" I, however, stared. When the officer got into the car he sat and stared right back at me. Then he laughed at me and shut the door.

I was infuriated. What this man did was wrong on so many levels. The obvious: it's illegal. Secondly, children were in clear view. Thirdly, Sergeant Liczbinski's funeral procession had just traveled down the same road less than an hour beforehand. Fourthly, he was an out of town police officer. I really could go on and on.

Ken thought this behavior was typical. "Jess, I've seen cops in full uniform in alleyways with women bent over in front of them."

Great. Maybe in twenty years I'll be just as desensitized as Ken, but for now, I can be naive and ask my questions and get mad when I see an officer violate the law. This entire week has been overwhelming for this city and you can feel it in the air. It's like a black cloud has settled.

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