By Dustin Slaughter
Updated on July 12th, 2016 to include comments from the city solicitor’s office.
Protesters this morning held a memorial service for victims of police violence, disrupting traffic at 15th and Market Street for approximately 30 minutes, before marching through Center City and concluding inside City Hall’s courtyard.
Today’s event marked the sixth straight day of peaceful protests in Philly, following the police killings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Jerry Williams, and Delrawn Small last week that have sparked nationwide demonstrations. Participants read aloud the names of victims and gave short obituaries for each, including the late Brandon Tate-Brown, who was gunned down by Philadelphia police during a traffic stop in 2014.
The vigil and march were part of a national day of action organized by a group of supporters called ‘Showing Up for Racial Justice’, a self-described “national network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice.”
In a statement, Philly’s SURJ chapter called on Mayor Jim Kenney and city officials to “hold the Fraternal Order of Police accountable for their violence in black and brown communities and to end this violence immediately.”
Spokesperson John Bergen said that while people recognize the police union has a duty to represent its members, it also wields considerable political power, and with that power comes responsibility.
“Where are the good cops who are speaking out about this?” Bergen told The Declaration this morning.
The group also asked the city “for a clear explanation of how officials will work to end police violence toward minority communities.”
Administration spokesperson Lauren Hitt offered no comment on today’s protest, but instead referred to a statement the administration released last Friday amid escalating tensions between police and protesters across the country, in which the mayor struck a decidedly conciliatory tone.
“I have profound respect for the peaceful protestors who marched in Philadelphia last night to demand change, and I have a profound respect for the Philadelphia police officers who stood ready to protect them and who put their lives on the line for this city every day,” Kenney’s statement read in part.
One criticism the group levied against the city regards an agreement between the city and the police union, signed by then-Mayor Michael Nutter, that provides $2.5 million in public funds to the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 for legal costs associated with defending police misconduct. The agreement, contained within the FOP’s 2014 contract (also included below), is set to expire next year – on Mayor Kenney’s watch.
That $2.5 million is in addition to the millions of dollars paid out by city taxpayers to settle alleged police misconduct suits.
According to a Newsworks report last year, over $44 million dollars were paid to plaintiffs between 2011 and 2014. On average, alleged police misconduct costs Philadelphia taxpayers about $10 million per year.
54 cases involving Philly police have settled this year related to incidents between August 2010 and May 2015, costing the public $3.45 million, according to the solicitor’s office.
The group’s singling out of the FOP puts Kenney in a precarious political position because the organization played a key role in his election with its endorsement last year.
Randy Duque, who works at the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations and who has been personally observing the wave of street marches since last week, told The Declaration that there “are a lot of mixed feelings within city government” over Philly’s latest round of protests. But he and others are heartened that there seems to be a somewhat consistent desire for unity, despite the undeniable anger roiling through demonstrations.
Duque would not comment on SURJ’s criticism of the FOP’s publicly-subsidized legal defense funding nor the city’s police misconduct settlements.
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There is one comment
I see the defense fund and the settlement payments as two different things; everyone is entitled to a defense, so I have fewer problems with that funding (and of course I support strong funding for public defenders for everyone who cannot afford an attorney—that is probably how police defense funding should be provided). Settlement payments are another issue; the individuals should be paying the bulk of those, particularly when their actions are against policy. Where they were following official policy, it is less clear—but I would hope that the misconduct settlements are NOT for inappropriate policies, and if they are, that the main result would be a change of that policy. If it is bad policy, then sadly taxpayers are on the hook for the settlement, as I see it.