AL DÍA News Media photo of protests surrounding the Lt. Jonathan Josey police brutality case in which the officer was caught on video punching Aida Guzman during the festivities after the Puerto Rican Day Parade.

What about Philadelphia?

Latinos and policing in the city of brotherly love

by Sabrina Vourvoulias, AL DÍA News Media

One of the revelations of the Department of Justice's report on an investigation of the Philadelphia Police Department (initiated at the request of Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey in 2013) is that officer-involved shootings, including fatal ones, are on the rise. And that the department has had nearly 400 deadly force incidents between 2007 and 2013. 

The most recent police killing that mobilized people in Philly took place in December, 2014, when 26-year-old Brandon Tate-Brown of North Philadelphia was shot by a police officer who claim he fired as Tate-Brown was reaching for a gun. Tate Brown's family disputed the story, based on video of the incident they were shown by the police.

"The only mistake my cousin, Brandon Tate-Brown, made is that he was driving while black in the city of Philadelphia,"  Tate-Brown's cousin Asa Khalif told 6-Action News in response to District Attorney Seth Williams announcing that the officer would not be charged with a crime.

According to the DOJ report Collaborative Reform Initiative, An Assessment of Deadly Force in the Philadelphia Police Department (2015, CNA Corporation): "Between 2007 and 2013, the number of unarmed suspects shot at by PPD officers ranged from four to 11 annually. Accounting for the total number of OISs in each year shows that the proportion of unarmed OIS suspects has fluctuated over time ... In 2007, just 6 percent of OIS suspects were unarmed. The most recent year of complete data, 2013, shows that 20 percent of OIS suspects were unarmed." 

Race of suspects in officer involved shootings, 2007-2013, Philadelphia Police Department
Page Title
Suspects in officer involved shootings
Black80%
Latino10%
White9%
Asian1%

©AL DÍA News Media, 2015. Data source: Collaborative Reform Initiative, An Assessment of Deadly Force in the Philadelphia Police Department, 2015

Percentage of unarmed and armed suspects in officer involved shootings, 2007-2013, Philadelphia Police Department

©AL DÍA News Media, 2015. Data source: Collaborative Reform Initiative, An Assessment of Deadly Force in the Philadelphia Police Department, 2015

Race of officers in officer involved shootings, 2007-2013, Philadelphia Police Department

©AL DÍA News Media, 2015. Data source: Collaborative Reform Initiative, An Assessment of Deadly Force in the Philadelphia Police Department, 2015

The police districts with the most officer involved shootings between 2007 and 2013, were Districts 22 and 25. There were 55 officer involved shootings in District 22 during that time frame; the worst years were 2011 and 2012, which each had 10 OIS incidents. There were 41 officer involved shootings in the same period in District 25; the worst year was 2012 when 12 OIS incidents took place. 

Those districts contain some of the lowest median incomes in all of Philadelphia, and not coincidentally, are either primarily Black or Black and Latino. In the charts below, zip codes 19121 and 19132 are District 22; zip codes 19133 and 19140 are District 25.

Percentage of Latino and Black population in Police Districts with highest OIS incidence (22 and 25)

©AL DÍA News Media, 2015. Data source: Zipatlas.com, Percentage of Families Below Poverty Level in Philadelphia, PA by Zip Code

Median income and percentage of households living at or below poverty in Police Districts with highest OIS incidence (22, 25)

©AL DÍA News Media, 2015. Data source: Zipatlas.com, Percentage of Families Below Poverty Level in Philadelphia, PA by Zip Code

North Philly: The groundwork of mistrust

Which comes first: excessive force or impunity? 

Either way the costs of each— human, material and in trust — are enormous

According to the collaborative news blog MuckRock, since 2009, "the city of Philadelphia has paid out more than $40 million in damages and settlements as a result of nearly 600 misconduct lawsuits brought against the police department ... Shooting settlements made up 34 percent of the total payouts, followed closely by excessive force cases at 33 percent." Those payments come out of taxpayer dollars.

The blog goes on to say that the amount is substantially more than what was paid out during the same time period by police departments in much larger cities, like New York. 



Photos courtesy of the Philadelphia Police Department

Not included in those totals is the settlement awarded to Najee Rivera, a 23-year-old Latino who in May of 2013 was dragged off his scooter by police officers, brutally beaten, and then charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest. 

After Rivera's arrest, his girlfriend went to the area of North Philadelphia where the brutalization had taken place, and found surveillance video that completely contradicted the police reports. Assault charges were dropped against Rivera and the two cops were put on desk duty until Feb. 5, 2015, when they were suspended and charged with Aggravated Assault, Simple Assault, Criminal Conspiracy, Recklessly Endangering Another Person, Tampering with Public Records or Information, False Reports to Law Enforcement Authorities, Obstructing Administration of Law, and Official Oppression. 

Rivera agreed to a $200,000 settlement from the city, but has since been arrested on unrelated charges. Who knows if he will ever see any of the money the city offered as compensation for what he endured at the hands of its police.

There is no guarantee in Philadelphia that either incriminating video or criminal charges will be enough to keep a cop with a history of brutality off the police force — the Fraternal Order of Police is a powerful union in a traditional union town that mostly lionizes its cops. Human Rights Watch, in the mid 1990s, reported that, "The Fraternal Order of Police is exceptionally powerful in Philadelphia — some say it has more control of the police than the Police Commissioner does. ... A spokesman of the FOP, who did not wish to be named, told Human Rights Watch that in 90 percent of disciplinary challenges, FOP wins after a finding that the officer was 'improperly dismissed.'"

In 2013 Lt. Jonathan Josey was reinstated in the Philadelphia Police Department, even after video of him punching Aida Guzman in the face after the Puerto Rican Day Parade went viral. After Josey was exonerated by a judge with ties to the police department (who also made discriminatory remarks about the Puerto Rican neighborhood in North Philly where the incident occurred), Guzman agreed to a $75,000 settlement from the city, and not long after, Josey was again patrolling the streets.

And we won't even get into the gang of Narcotics cops — who made it habit to roust bodegas and harass bodegueros — whose investigation wasn't complete when the statute of limitations ran out ....

South Philly: A different fear

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed an executive order in 2014 limiting the city's cooperation with ICE, but for the Latino immigrant community in South Philly, the apprehension about police collaboration with immigration agents lingers. ICE numbers released in 2013, indicate that in 2012 the ICE field office in Philadelphia had 999 people in detention, 336 of them detained with final deportation orders.

 Juntos, a South Philadelphia community organization that advocates for immigrants, has claimed that there continues to be collaboration between police and ICE in counties abutting Philadelphia County.

 

Left out of the conversation

In January, U.S. General Attorney Eric Holder visited Philadelphia to hold a roundtable on building trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey —co-chairman of the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing — and U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Zane David Memeger, were also at the table. There were no Latinos among the 22 other panelists gathered for the discussion.

When AL DÍA News Media questioned the omission, local officials blamed the DOJ, which organized the event and compiled the list of panelists; the DOJ did not comment on whether any of the similar roundtables held in Atlanta, Cleveland, Memphis, Chicago and Oakland included any representatives from Latino community organizations among the panelists. 

Cultivating the trust and collaboration with the Latino communities in North and South Philly to mitigate existing mistrust and fear (ultimately reducing the possibility of future incidences of OIS) is going to require that the Philadelphia Police Department better leverage its existing partnerships with Latino community organizations or engage civilian community liaisons, and that it practice the type of focused outreach outlined by the Vera Institute of Justice's EPIC project.

And it might just mean schooling the DOJ on the fact that there must be Latinos at the table when building trust between community and police is up for discussion.