“Off the streets! Off the streets!”
Those words echoed off the walls of Philadelphia Police Headquarters on Friday afternoon as more than 150 people gathered in front of the building, popularly known as the Roundhouse, to protest alleged police Facebook posts.
Demonstrators called for the benching, if not firing, of about 330 active city cops recently accused of making racist or otherwise offensive posts.
The protest, organized by Solomon Jones, a WURD radio host who also writes opinion columns that appear in The Inquirer, featured remarks from a variety of community members and public officials, including Jones; the Rev. Greg Holston, executive director of the interfaith community group POWER; recently acquitted inmate Hassan Bennett; longtime local activist Asa Khalif; and State Rep. Stephen Kinsey (D., Phila.).
Each denounced what they said was a culture within the Police Department that tolerates public airing of biased remarks. Most speakers, without identifying specific posts or officers, agreed that cops with Facebook posts cataloged on the Plain View Project database, published Saturday by advocates studying police bias, should be removed from street duty or taken off the force.
“Today, all eyes are on Philadelphia,” said Kinsey. “We can’t tolerate what has already been tolerated.”
The protest marked the latest episode in the ongoing fallout from the publication of the database. The Police Department said Thursday 10 officers had been benched as Internal Affairs investigates every post linked to Philadelphia cops by the Plain View Project, which documented such alleged Facebook activity in eight jurisdictions across the country.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who has denounced the posts and said some are “vile and disgusting,” has pledged that the entire 6,500 member department will undergo antibias training.
Kinsey, chair of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, said Friday that the caucus had sent Ross a letter this week expressing “deep concern” over the alleged postings. The letter also called for officers found to have violated the department’s social media policy to be disciplined, possibly by undergoing psychological evaluations or race relations training.
The peaceful rally lasted about an hour.
One attendee, 37-year-old David Hackley Jr., said he felt it was important for the Police Department to see that community members are concerned enough by the database to stage a public demonstration.
“Even if just showing up for the protest is the first step,” Hackley said, “each individual here has contributed just by being here.”