I’ve long known that some of the Philadelphia police officers who were fired after their racist or bigoted Facebook comments were exposed by the 2019 Plainview Project were trying to get their jobs back through arbitration. That’s why reading about it in The Inquirer was no surprise.
I was, however, taken aback that the full story of the coalition of civil rights organizations that worked to get the officers fired in the first place continues to go untold. So, let me be clear. The largest mass police firing in Philadelphia history did not happen simply because the officers’ racist, anti-Islamic, and violent Facebook posts were discovered. They were fired because the Black community and our allies mounted a concerted and organized effort against them.
Perhaps that fact is inconsequential to those whose history has consistently been at the forefront of the American narrative. But for Black people, who have watched the decades-long whitewashing of the Tulsa Race Massacre, it matters. For Black people, who have seen our accomplishments ignored, stolen, or destroyed, it matters. For Black people, who have witnessed others tell our stories in ways that have not benefited us, it matters. Fifteen police officers were fired or forced out in Philadelphia because Black Philadelphians organized peaceful protests, pressured public officials, and strategically worked to get our demands met. We cannot allow that truth to be overlooked.
I brought together the groups and individuals that marshaled their forces to quickly organize a protest at Police Headquarters after the Plainview Project revealed that 328 current or former Philadelphia police officers had posted racist, bigoted, or violent material on Facebook. Our group consisted of representation from the NAACP, the National Action Network, Black Clergy of Philadelphia, the Guardian Civic League, POWER, Pastor Alyn Waller and the Rev. G. Lamar Stewart, the Philadelphia Student Union, and the Council on American Islamic Relations.
We formulated a strategy that involved making specific demands, pressuring public officials, negotiating face-to-face, and partnering with the communities we represented to bring foot soldiers to the seat of power.
We demanded to meet with the mayor and police commissioner, and we did so — twice. We went to City Council to demand its backing, and got it. We testified at the resultant hearing, held a community forum, and demanded that the offending cops be fired. That’s why so many police officers were terminated or forced out, and that’s why they’re now seeking to get their jobs back.
Over the last few months, as the arbitration process has played out, I’ve been called upon as a prospective community witness more than once. I have not been selected to testify, however, and perhaps that’s for the best. I don’t want the fired officers to be able to credibly claim that the process was unduly influenced by a journalist.
However, I am more than a writer and radio host. I am a lifelong Philadelphian. I am a taxpayer. I am a member of the Black community, and it is important that I stand up to make sure the contributions of Black people are respected.
I watched 90-year-old women on walkers stand next to 20-somethings as we rallied at Police Headquarters. I watched Councilmember Derek Green and Councilmember-to-be Jamie Gauthier and State Sen. Vincent Hughes and State Rep. Stephen Kinsey show up — not to make speeches, but to stand in solidarity with the people. I watched a movement take shape, and I cannot sit idly by as the results of that movement are glossed over.
As a member of the media, I have often been dismayed by our fixation with telling Black stories centered on murder and mayhem, tragedy and pain. We must also tell the stories of Black people who organize, strategize, and stand up to racist systems. We must tell the stories of Black victory, because in telling those stories, we acknowledge how powerful Black people really are.
We must not be left out of the narrative of what happened when the people stood up to racism in Philadelphia policing. That’s why I’ll do all I can to make sure Black history is accurate, even if I have to write it myself.