In the tidal wave of calls for accountability, leaders across the board are being asked to explain their failures.
It’s time some leaders in Philly start explaining theirs.
In a must-read story by several of my colleagues, the Police Department’s mess of a response to early protests after the police killing of George Floyd was laid bare.
A 14-year-old boy was attacked by a police dog.
Tear-gas-happy cops fired at looters and peaceful protesters alike.
Deployment orders were slow or unclear, which forced officers to make their own calls — including laying out the red carpet for a bunch of white Fishtown cop bros who claimed to be protecting the neighborhood after curfew with bats and tire irons.
“There was no direction given — there was no direction at all,” one veteran intelligence officer told Inquirer reporters. “I have never been at work and didn’t know what to do. I was confused.”
Why? What happened? We’ll have to wait on Commissioner Danielle Outlaw to get back to us on that. The city’s top cop declined to explain. She’s apparently ordered many “after-action reports,” so … stay tuned?
But there’s this from Managing Director Brian Abernathy:
“I was dumbfounded by how out of touch I truly was,” he said during a City Council budget hearing last week. “And how I had underestimated the anger and rage and frustration of folks I’m hired to serve.”
It’s tempting to give him and so many other leaders a pat, or a pass for at least making a show of falling on their swords as the nation not only calls for police accountability but long-overdue changes to systemic injustices.
The scramble to look woke is on. Apologies abound for actions not taken.
From police departments to coffee shops. From restaurants to college campuses. From libraries to newsrooms.
I even came across a story about accountants committing to more diversity in their field.
So many versions of mea culpas and commitments to do better, it’s hard to keep up. Which is why silence speaks even louder than usual.
And now, those who have pointed out failures for years, at huge personal and professional risk, are left to ponder the high road and trust that this time change will come. Or take another, more treacherous road, and say what more often than not needs to be said:
It’s too little, too late. And more important, if this truly is a tipping point for real change, it won’t come under the same leadership.
Even before Outlaw got to Philly she had been criticized as the chief of police in Portland, Ore., for her approach to protests that was both heavy-handed and dismissive.
In 2018, her officers fired stun grenades at demonstrators. Later she compared protesters to schoolchildren who’d lost a fight and then “wail off, whine, and complain.”
Let’s hope whatever response she’s composing for her most recent failures – because ultimately they are hers – will be less condescending.
What exactly are you waiting for, Commissioner? The city was in chaos for three days. Meanwhile, homicides and shootings are off the charts and you’re doing nothing to show Philadelphians why you’re still right for this job.
We expected more.
This city deserves more.
I suppose it’s bad luck that she began her tenure just as the world imploded, but she’s a veteran, like Abernathy, like so many leaders now tap dancing around the land mines of progress. And we simply don’t have time for anyone in charge to be playing catch-up — not at any institution.
It can’t be easy, especially for those who have grown accustomed to being in positions of power, who might even have done some good while now being slow or reluctant to acknowledge they didn’t do enough.
It’s telling, watching leaders full of apologies and promises keeping a death grip on their power.
All that effort could be better served by understanding that, leader or no, everyone has a role — by stepping aside so that someone who will create change can do so.
Every leader has their day.
This is a new day.