City leadership blows it by ignoring citizens

ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER The case involving Darrin Manning (seen with mom Ikea Coney) was the conversation starter.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER The case involving Darrin Manning (seen with mom Ikea Coney) was the conversation starter.
Posted: January 29, 2014

CATALYST FOR CHANGE ministries occupies a towering old church on the corner of 38th and Baring streets. Last Friday night, it was filled with more than 100 people gathered for a two-hour discussion about the alleged police brutality against 16-year-old Darrin Manning.

The conversation was spirited and sometimes angry. But it was mostly measured and sometimes surprisingly hopeful.

Too bad no one from the city or the Police Department was there to hear it - unless they came undercover and chose not to tell organizers they were there.

No Mayor Nutter. His spokesman Mark McDonald said he was at a meeting in Washington. Everyone else was apparently indisposed.

No Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. Organizers of the meeting said they were told to submit a written request but never heard back. Not even a community-relations officer as far as I could tell. (Representatives of the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission were there, but those are citizens.)

"This clearly wasn't a priority for them, that was the message sent by their absence," said Christopher Norris, who helped organize the town-hall meeting. He said he extended invitations to several people in the Mayor's Office and the Police Department.

Three weeks after Manning said he was assaulted by police, there's still a lot we don't know.

Did the cops stop Manning and his high school basketball teammates on Jan. 7 because someone said something dumb to the cops and then ran off? Or were the boys targeted because they were a large group of young black men in hats and scarves?

Did Manning resist arrest when he was stopped, or was he stopped, and then arrested, for no reason?

With a video that captures only parts of what happened near Broad Street and Girard Avenue, and eyewitnesses too afraid to talk to cops, we may never know for sure. Police are conducting an Internal Affairs investigation. Manning, who was charged with three misdemeanors, is due back in court March 7.

But there are a couple of things we do know for sure. As Manning was arrested and patted down by a female cop, he suffered a potentially permanent injury to a testicle.

And after Friday's meeting, we know something else for sure: The city's leadership blew it by blowing off that meeting.

This was a real opportunity to make a connection with the community, to start a conversation about changing perceptions and behaviors and relationships between citizens and cops.

Would it have been tense for the top brass? Sure. Would it have been awkward? No doubt. There is an Internal Affairs investigation. And neither the mayor nor the police could have been expected to talk about Manning's case specifically. Manning's lawyer is also refusing to allow police to talk to his client.

But whoever still thinks this is just about Manning isn't paying attention. The alleged brutality against a young African-American man may be what started this conversation this time. But these are longstanding, deeply embedded issues illustrated by story after story that people shared Friday about feeling targeted and mistreated by the people who are supposed to protect them.

It's about the 45 percent of stop-and-frisks conducted without legal justification in 2012, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. An overwhelming majority of those arrests, the reports said, were of African-Americans and Latinos.

And yet, people inside that church said most cops are good people and good cops.

They talked about their responsibility to change perceptions and culture between the police department and the community.

They talked about needing to persuade more of their young people to become police officers.

There was no us vs. them.

Dan Jackson, Manning's basketball coach, said that after Manning was arrested, he questioned all of his players, individually, about why they ran away from cops. They all answered in the same way: They were afraid. The cops "were all white, we were all black," they told him.

But you know what else Jackson said? "We need to educate and really train our young black men on how to approach the police because they really just don't know. Maybe if our young men know how to kind of address certain situations, maybe we wouldn't be sitting here today."

Maybe - if only the city's leadership didn't waste such an opportunity.

The citizens who gathered for two hours on a freezing Friday night grasping for answers were cheated.

And in the process so was this city.


Email: ubinas@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

On Facebook: Helen.Ubinas

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