The old double standard is as alive and well as ever.
I find myself thinking about how women are judged more harshly — especially Black women — when I encounter folks talking about how Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw should resign over missteps made during last summer’s riots and unrest. My reaction is always, really? Then my eyebrow goes way up. Outlaw had a hard way to go from the jump. It is really hard to come in as an outsider, much less as a Black female, and run a predominantly white male-dominated police force.
Outlaw, who celebrates her one-year anniversary this month, made mistakes. But considering the kind of year that 2020 was, who in her position wouldn’t have? I am not trying to justify some of the heavy-handed, militaristic tactics local police used last summer. Some of the things that went down on Outlaw’s watch were clearly problematic, such as the use of tear gas, which hadn’t been used in Philly since the MOVE bombing in 1985. Council has since banned the use of it and rubber bullets.
I would like to think that’s all behind us now. It’s time for the city to move forward. And like the many males who preceded her as the city’s top cop, Outlaw deserves a chance to continue growing in the role. After all, she took on the position during one of our worst years in modern history.
Gun violence was raging before she arrived; some had unrealistically pinned their hopes on her to come in and fix the situation. Outlaw hadn’t even settled in her new home when Philadelphia went into lockdown to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus. She had barely been in her job a month before tragedy struck when one of her officers, Cpl. James O’Connor IV, was killed in the line of duty. Meanwhile, people were critiquing her moves or lack of them — as I also did — when I wrote about the low profile she was keeping.
Then in May, protests and riots broke out the likes of which this city hasn’t seen in years after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Outlaw had to have been making decisions fast and furious. Some of them may have been on point. But others weren’t, such as the decision to deploy tear gas in West Philly. In her defense, Mayor Jim Kenney knew about her use of CS gas and rubber bullets in her previous job in Portland, Ore., before she moved east.
“Despite this, the Mayor allowed the Commissioner to make decisions about its use without his express approval. Each of these issues contributed to the lack of leadership and accountability …,” read a report by City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart, prepared by Ballard Spahr and At-Risk International Inc., with input from a community advisory council.
People shouldn’t be so quick to dump on Outlaw. Much of the blame for the city’s lack of preparedness and poor leadership last summer should fall on Mayor Kenney and other top officials including former Managing Director Brian Abernathy, who resigned after coming under fire. But Kenney isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Neither should Outlaw.
“I’m not saying she’s doing a great job but I’m not going to say she’s doing a bad job. She’s doing a challenging job. This job is challenging no matter who you give it to,” said David Fisher of the National Black Police Association. “We support her. We want her to succeed in this.
He added, “There’s a whole lot of blame to go around for a whole lot of things.”
I’m with him on that. I’m sure Outlaw has learned a lot since arriving in Philly. She needs to keep adjusting and learning on the job just as her male predecessors have done. Anyone who thinks something to the contrary needs to back off.