Last year, Mayor Michael Nutter referred to Trayvon Martin's death as "nothing short of an assassination." This past weekend, Nutter issued a less incendiary statement, saying he's "deeply saddened" by the verdict in the case, adding, "Every day in America, African American males die on our streets in outrageously alarming numbers."
This all made me wonder: Just to what extent does Mayor Nutter really care about Philly's own young black men dying in our streets?
We know what former Mayor John Street thinks of Nutter on that topic. I won't repeat the disgustingly personal remark nor will I link it, as Nutter himself rightfully said he would not respond to such an "undignified" remark.
But I did pose the question to a number of very vocal Philadelphians – none of whom were shy about sharing their views of the Zimmerman verdict on social media yesterday. I made sure I included a fair share of Martin supporters, Zimmerman supporters, Democrats, Republicans, whites, blacks, men and women.
My sampling was much more diverse than the 5 white, 1 Hispanic all-female jury that heard the case.
But this was strictly about Mayor Nutter's comments, actions and results protecting the lives of young black men in Philadelphia.
The gloves came off right away.
"I do have a problem with him [Mayor Nutter] calling the death of Trayvon Martin an assassination," said Denise Clay, a writer and blogger at The Mad (political) Scientist. "That word is better reserved for folks like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. It kind of reminds me of a Chris Rock skit in which he informs folks that Biggie and Tupac weren't assassinated ... they were shot. School is still going to be open on the rappers' birthdays. While the murder of Trayvon Martin was coldblooded and bad, it doesn't rise to the level of what happened with Dr. King or Malcolm."
David-Stephone Domingo Cherry, a student from the University of the Arts, didn't mince words, either. "If Mayor Nutter had cared about the black boys, and young men of Philadelphia, wouldn't he have rallied for the right to visit a local library instead of closing them down? Wouldn't he have put something more on the line, instead of a politician's promise, that means nothing after re-election? And just because he goes to a church every now and then, and declares a block party open, doesn't mean he cares. "
"The difference between Trayvon Martin's death and any of the Philadelphia deaths is that only the Philadelphia deaths can be blamed upon Mayor Nutter's failures," confided David Easlea, an elected Montgomery county Democrat who was initially very supportive of Nutter. "Naturally he wants to remove attention from his own failures and focus them on other peoples failures - whether that is the failure of the police to prosecute what they saw as an evident case of self-defense, or the failure of the politically motivated prosecution to persuade a jury that it was anything other than self-defense."
No one expressed his dissatisfaction with Nutter more than Leon A. King, II, Esq., the former Commissioner of Prisons (December 2002 – January 2008). "Mayor Nutter only cares about playing to the media and 'appearing' like he really cares about the murders of black men in this City. He has done nothing substantial to stop, for the long term, the homicide rate in this City, nothing!"
On the other hand, there were several supporters of the Mayor's efforts, like West Philadelphia community activist Algernong Allen. "I think the Mayor, like many people black and white, are psychologically sorting through this apparent disconnect between law and justice," Allen told me last night, adding, "This case may actually generate awareness for an issue, the violence inflicted upon black men, so long overlooked in our City. I believe on a human level, beyond position, the Mayor is sincere in his concern."
I agree with Allen that something very good can come out of this tragedy if the mayor and the other city officials use this as a springboard to take steps to address violence, drug policy, and jobs.
Likewise, Micah Mahjoubian, a local political consultant and LGBT rights activist, felt Nutter cares deeply. "I have often disagreed with many of his policies and his priorities, especially when it comes to things like stop-and-frisk. But never would I question whether cares about the lives of people who live in our city, no matter the race." Mahjoubian, who participated in a rally Sunday night in support of Martin, is looking to the future. "My gut, my heart, and my head tell me that justice was not served. And I'd like to have a responsible discussion about how we can fix this wrong."
One aspiring potential mayoral candidate chimed in, as well. In a posting to his Facebook wall, Joe McColgan wrote, "No disrespect Mr. Mayor, but young black men die on the streets of Philadelphia in what seems like a daily occurrence, without any real explanation as well, and at the hands of other young black men. Why is there no outrage - everyday - in Philadelphia? Is it more of a travesty that a black 17 year old was shot and killed by a Hispanic, as opposed to being shot and killed by another black 17 year old?"
I asked McColgan if he had any additional comment. His response? "Mayor Nutter said, 'Every day in America, African American males die on our streets in outrageously alarming numbers.' And I ask why? The only consistent reason is it is someone else's fault; the judicial system, the cops, institutionalized racism, me -- the white man. Let's stop fixing blame and fix the problem. We'll all be better off."
I contacted Gabriella Iacovetti – who posted her own comment on McColgan's thread of this topic. Iacovetti, who resides in Center City, told me afterwards, "These people who are hurt and killed are always important to someone. But when you are the mayor, or the DA of the 5th largest city in the country, with its own set of challenges, why insert yourself into that? It does little to help here, where it's needed. And only inflames people to a level that is completely unnecessary."
All which brings me back to Clay, who, although she had a problem with Nutter's use of "assassination," feels that Nutter is not getting a fair shot from the media. "But here's the thing: when Mayor Nutter is asked about the murders here, he's never asked how they make him feel; he's blamed for them. I'm sure that if he were asked how they made him feel, he'd have a similar comment."
Contact John Featherman at email@example.com