Good news, everyone. I cracked the case.
It took me all night, but I figured out why Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw waited until Thursday to express shock and remorse over Philadelphia police teargassing peaceful protesters who marched onto I-676 way back when on June 1: They must have hit their monthly limit of free stories on Inquirer.com.
Otherwise, there’s no way to buy Outlaw’s claim that she was moved to “humbly” apologize only after she viewed the New York Times’ unforgiving video re-creation of the now-infamous teargassing incident.
“The second I find out as the leader of this department and organization that there’s contradictory information to what I personally came out and said … it’s important for me to come out and clarify what now I’ve seen,” Outlaw insisted.
Unrepentant city officials had claimed that the reaction was “a last resort” taken after protesters flooded an open highway, surrounded a state trooper’s car, and threw rocks at officers.
Except people who were trapped on the highway insisted there was no reason for police to use military tactics against civilians. Certainly no reason for an officer to violently rip the face masks off kneeling protesters to douse their faces with pepper spray. As usual, it was the cops’ narrative vs. the community narrative, and, despite hundreds of thousands of protesters taking to the streets across this country to call for police accountability, not much has changed.
For his part, Kenney called what he saw on the video “completely unacceptable” and offered his own apology: “I now know that my statements were based on inaccurate information being relayed from the scene.”
Kenney and Outlaw were so “disturbed” and “sickened” by the video that in a remarkable Game of Thrones-type plot twist, they offered up a human sacrifice right there in the middle of the afternoon news conference.
“I and I alone gave the approval,” said Dennis Wilson, the deputy commissioner who authorized the use of tear gas on I-676, and who spoke in such precise and scripted language that I expected to see Outlaw and Kenney mouthing the words right along with him.
“Me and me alone … ,” Wilson repeated, before saying he was taking a voluntary demotion that would have been much more appropriate prior to his working protests as recently as Tuesday.
The whole thing was a stunning display of arrogance by leadership, followed by performative shock and apologies that, for future reference, might have packed a bigger dramatic punch if, say, an Inquirer reporter hadn’t live-tweeted the whole incident while choking on tear gas along with everyone else scrambling to escape.
But then, maybe, our public officials aren’t big on social media, either?
OK, that’s a joke because we all know Mayor “so-sad-sometimes” Kenney likes him some Twitter. In fact, he posted his mea culpa as a Twitter thread that was nice and all, but won’t hold up like that 2014 tweet.
Because, let’s face it, these days, who isn’t so sad sometimes? Especially with a reactive administration that is spectacularly fumbling its response to citizens exercising their right to call out injustice.
And this is where I have to call your attention again to Managing Director Brian Abernathy’s comments at a City Council budget hearing earlier this month:
“I was dumbfounded by how out of touch I truly was,” he said. “And how I had underestimated the anger and rage and frustration of folks I’m hired to serve.”
Meanwhile, out in the real world, the rest of us are dumbfounded by how people who admit they’re blowing their job still get to keep it after what can only be described as dereliction of duty.
Not just on that highway, but also at the mostly Black 52nd Street business corridor in West Philly, where tear gas forced at least one family to escape their home, and firefighters who were battling a blaze had to call off tear gas-happy cops because the gas was preventing them from doing their jobs.
And in Fishtown and South Philly, where rabid, white, cop-bro mobs were allowed to run rampant in the name of protecting police, “their” neighborhood and a statue of Christopher Columbus that’s treated with more care and respect than many Black and brown people could ever hope for in this city.
Not to mention the outrageous arrests of reporters doing their jobs — though nowhere near as outrageous as what happens to people without public platforms or company lawyers to come to their aid.
But hey, while police continue to “investigate,” maybe the New York Times will keep compiling videos — a box set maybe. And maybe someone can lend our public officials a password to their Inquirer.com subscription — because, I promise you, there’s no need to wait for the movie. It’s all right there, in black and white.