Annette John-Hall: In admonishing teen mobs, Nutter pulls out shame-game shackle

Mayor Nutter at Mount Carmel Baptist: "You've damaged your peers, and, quite honestly, you've damaged your own race."
Mayor Nutter at Mount Carmel Baptist: "You've damaged your peers, and, quite honestly, you've damaged your own race." (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 09, 2011

Once again, Michael Nutter is not messin' around.

You know he's not playing when he pulls out the black vernacular.

And there was a whole lot of it during his 30-minute rant - I mean, sermon - from behind the pulpit to a packed congregation Sunday at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in West Philadelphia.

Disgusted by the mobs of African American youths who have been terrorizing folks in City Center lately, he gave the black community a good old-fashioned whipping.

I could almost hear my grandmother say, "Get me a switch!"

He chastised black fathers for being nothing more than "sperm donors." He called out "doggone" hoodie-wearing teens who'd never get jobs with their underwear or the "crack of your butt" showing. And he came down on neglectful parents who "need to get a hold of your kids before we have to."

It was like he channeled his best Bill Cosby, which he pulls out when he feels he needs to.

And the mayor wasn't finished. At a City Hall news conference Monday, he told a small group of reporters, "I don't care what your economic status is in life, you do not have a right to beat someone's ass on the street."

We can deal with the public tongue-lashing, even if his intended targets were nowhere to be found among the law-abiding churchgoers in their Sunday best. But what really bothered me was when Nutter fired the age-old salvo that has historically evoked head-hanging shame among black folks:

"You've damaged yourself," the mayor accused. "You've damaged your peers, and, quite honestly, you've damaged your own race."

There, he said it.

In a way that his white constituents would hear him loud and clear. At that point, he wasn't talking to black people anymore.

Credit to your race

Nutter expressed in no uncertain terms the sentiment that so often shackles black people - that the unlawful actions of a few smear everyone else. Something whites never have to fear.

Just as they never have to live up to the expectation of being a credit to their race. Whatever that means.

Don't get me wrong. Nutter deserves credit for taking a strong stand against a troubling brand of violence that first erupted last summer, when groups of black youths randomly attacked and robbed pedestrians downtown.

You'd better believe I felt comforted seeing all of those police officers on foot patrol in Center City last weekend, where I was attending a convention. They made me feel safe.

Too bad folks in less upscale neighborhoods can't say the same.

See, we all know that once violence crosses over into the usually peaceful oasis of Center City, the mayor has to respond with a full-scale assault. After all, we're talking violence threatening tourism, business, the arts, the very heart of the city's livelihood.

But when the shooting of two black rowhouse residents in Port Richmond over the weekend - one was seven months pregnant - barely elicits attention, you have to wonder.

On Monday, Nutter announced a holistic approach to mob violence - increasing police presence, implementing earlier curfews in Center City and University City, expanding weekend hours at rec centers, and being tough on perpetrators who District Attorney Seth Williams said would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Nutter got the message out via urban radio.

I'm guessing that might be more effective than admonishing a bunch of thugs for damaging their race. As if they care.

He also urged parents to get involved in the lives of their children, saying, "This is not a police problem. This is a challenge to all of us in the community."

Now that sounds less like the blame-game politician playing to the cameras and more like the Michael Nutter who grew up at 55th and Larchwood.

You know, the one who's always been a credit to his community.


Contact columnist Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986, ajohnhall@phillynews.com,

or @Annettejh on Twitter.

 

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