First we stop shrugging, then we crowdsource integrity

Posted: April 30, 2014

IT HAPPENED. It actually happened. Philly stopped shrugging long enough to call BS on cops getting a pass from the feds for allegedly preying on some of the city's most vulnerable.

And that outrage led the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office to review the cases of two women who said they were groped by one of the cops. No word if they'll revisit the 22 Philly bodega owners who said they were robbed and roughed up.

"It makes sense for us to do this now given the criticism we've received for something we never looked at before," First Assistant District Attorney Ed McCann said.

Small victory from a heaping pile of political poo, including victims who weren't brought before a federal grand jury to testify. And a Fraternal Order of Police president proclaiming, despite a video showing one of the cops cutting a bodega's video cameras, that there was nothing criminal, nothing so drastic to warrant pulling the cops off the streets for five years.

Good lord.

But you know what? All that is almost beside the point now. Because what this colossal miscarriage of justice has done is trigger collective outrage that could be more far-reaching than a group of rogue cops.

So for that, (alleged) goons in blue, I thank you.

As much as this situation warrants massive amounts of outrage (and by all means, keep it coming), the sad truth is that there is no lack of things to be outraged about in a city that shrugs its way into complacency.

Just read Scott Charles' piece in Sunday's Inquirer about how 10 years ago, more than 8,000 people marched in honor of Faheem Thomas-Childs, a 10-year-old boy killed by gun violence.

The director of Temple University Hospital's violence-prevention "Cradle to Grave" program writes: "Many wept. Many more carried signs. All of them vowed to 'save the children.' As with any emotion, though, outrage is a difficult thing to sustain, its power inevitably blunted by time and familiarity."

So the question is: How do we capture and build on the palpable outrage that pushed the D.A.'s office to at least take a peek at part of the whole disgusting affair?

How do we direct it toward so many other outstanding issues in Philly and turn it into results?

I was looking for answers, when I went to a digital-innovation conference this weekend.

So when a speaker put up a slide that read "Ask people what they know, not just what they think," I had an idea. More than 4,000 readers responded to a philly.com poll about the cops who got away with ripping off bodega owners. Most said the cops should be embarrassed to wear a badge, that they should be prosecuted to fullest extent of the law.

That's a lot of outrage to turn into potential action. I wondered: Could some kind of database, some kind of interactive platform help keep Philly pols and cops honest?

"Was there a way to crowdsource integrity?" I tweeted. Hey, I was at a digital-journalism conference.

Before I could even get to my computer to try out some of the tools discussed at that conference, one activist started to work on a Philly police-abuse Tumblr page. Another, Faye Anderson, started a Google form for residents to report police misconduct under the hashtag #myPhillyPD.

In a lot of ways they beat me to the punch; not something reporters usually like, but in this case made me more optimistic about this city than I've been in months.

Because no matter how many calls to action I or my colleagues make, change can only happen and be sustained by those who are most affected.

Maybe it's naive to be this hopeful. But there's another reason to be optimistic about this moment. Young people have poured into this city. Many are looking to replace Philadelphia's recycled leadership. And even more important, many are looking at how things "have always been" and itching to change it.

I'll be writing about these emerging new leaders in future columns. But the bottom line is that there is growing momentum out there, and it's time to do whatever we can to keep it going.

So, send me your ideas.


Email: ubinas@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

On Facebook: Helen.Ubinas

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