If ever you witness a roving mob of white men with bats, please refrain from making any hasty assumptions.

They could be a travel baseball team. They could also be a group of grieving baseball fans so distraught over the pandemic’s effect on this year’s season that they’ve taken to dragging their knuckles bats around town like security blankets to feel closer to their beloved Phillies.

You know, the sensitive types who draw comfort from cradling metal pipes in public, kind of like the Log Lady from Twin Peaks, but Philly-style.

A police officer tries to talk to a group, foreground, who called themselves old-time Fishtowners, walking west on Girard Avenue carrying bats, hammers and shovels in Philadelphia on Monday, June 1, 2020. The men said they were protecting their neighborhood in the event looters or rioters showed up in Fishtown neighborhood.
DAVID MAIALETTI / AP
A police officer tries to talk to a group, foreground, who called themselves old-time Fishtowners, walking west on Girard Avenue carrying bats, hammers and shovels in Philadelphia on Monday, June 1, 2020. The men said they were protecting their neighborhood in the event looters or rioters showed up in Fishtown neighborhood.

And even if they loudly and menacingly insist — with racist and homophobic language and in full view of Philadelphia police — that they are merely protecting their neighborhood from looters (while threatening Black Lives Matter protesters), don’t jump to conclusions.

Because as Capt. William Fisher of the 26th District said during a virtual community meeting this week about the June 1 incident: “Carrying a bat is not illegal unless you commit a crime with it.” (That was news to District Attorney Larry Krasner, who was on the call. News, too, I’m sure, to those threatened and assaulted by the bat enthusiasts roaming Girard Avenue.)

Matt Williams, 31, was assaulted Monday night by a group of men claiming to be protecting Fishtown, according to his girlfriend Kara Khan. The were returning from the protest on I-676. She said police did not take any action against the perpetrators.
Kara Khan
Matt Williams, 31, was assaulted Monday night by a group of men claiming to be protecting Fishtown, according to his girlfriend Kara Khan. The were returning from the protest on I-676. She said police did not take any action against the perpetrators.

But let’s move forward, as they say in the bad-decision business.

Fisher also said this when asked if Black lives matter:

“Of course they do. Black lives matter. White lives matter. Hispanic lives matter. Asian lives matter. Native American lives matter.”

Now, this is where I could veer off into a righteous rant about how by now there are so many examples and essays and memes and paint-by-number explainers as to why “All Lives Matter” spectacularly misses the point that there is no excuse for saying it or believing it.

But here’s the thing: What transpired on that call was a microcosm, emblematic of the kinds of pained and painful conversations taking place in communities and organizations everywhere.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, will meaningfully or systematically change inside any police department, corporation, newsroom — anywhere — if people this willfully ignorant are in leadership positions.

More problematic are those in power who keep quiet or play the part of the transformed, insisting — usually with just the right kind of emotion — that they’ve seen the light, even though they were not only in charge of the light switches, they installed them.

I’m all for growth. Truly. Kudos to all the new wokes and wokes-in-progress and wokety-woke-wokes ordering all the woke books from Amazon. But to borrow a mic-drop tweet from Jenn M. Jackson, a writer and assistant professor at Syracuse University: “Discovering” racism in 2020 is a privilege.

Isn’t it, though?

This isn’t a grow-as-you-go moment in history. At least it shouldn’t be.

That’s not me calling for anyone’s head. People who sincerely want to do better should absolutely be part of this movement. But take a seat, and take notes. Clear the front of the room for people who’ve been fighting this fight before it became safe or trendy to sign on, who had no choice about whether to confront racism day in and day out.

Thousands march past City Hall during a protest in Philadelphia against the Minneapolis police custody death of George Floyd on Saturday, June 6, 2020. Floyd died May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, sparking nationwide protests against police brutality.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Thousands march past City Hall during a protest in Philadelphia against the Minneapolis police custody death of George Floyd on Saturday, June 6, 2020. Floyd died May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, sparking nationwide protests against police brutality.

I felt for a lot of people on that Zoom call, including frustrated and angry residents who were asking for self-awareness, accountability, and honesty from police.

But I swear I could feel Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission, die a little inside every time she threw police a lifeline and they grabbed it only long enough to wrap it around their ankles and trip into another excuse.

Fisher said that police didn’t have enough resources to disperse the armed men by curfew, that he “begged” the neighborhood vigilantes to go home. If only there was a way he and other law enforcement officers could have pressed the issue.

There was a lot of talk about trust on the call. In the first 10 minutes alone, Fisher uttered the word a half-dozen times. Trust, built. Trust, broken. And trust, he conceded, must be repaired — while never quite giving concrete examples of how that was going to happen.

Trust this: If the right people aren’t leading, this reckoning is doomed to become a retread of failure.