Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

"A black guy did it"

How many times must we read this kind of baloney:

RICHARD POTTS returned to his rowhouse on Lancaster Avenue near 56th early in the morning of April 5 to find his Overbrook neighborhood on virtual lockdown.

A cop had been shot; a manhunt was on. The block was cordoned off with yellow tape. Cops and SWAT teams fanned the streets. K-9 units scoured through brush. Some businesses were forced to close for five hours.

"The cops were questioning everybody," Potts, 57, recalled.

Sgt. Robert Ralston, a 21-year veteran and father of five, said he'd been shot on patrol by a black man with "cornrows" and a "mark or tattoo under his left eye."

There's been a lot of talk about racial profiling these days, unfortunately, because of the outrageous immigration crackdown in Arizona. Well, this is your racial profiling on steroids, right here on the streets of Overbrook -- which by the way, for any out-of-towners reading this, is a predominantly black neighborhood that is comprised heavily of stable working-class people and families in well-kept homes, not some kind of urban wasteland out of "Grand Theft Auto."  As the picture at top shows, the veteran cop's bogus claim -- turns out that he actually shot himself -- turned that middle-class neighborhood into a war zone. Robert Ralston didn't just shoot his own career in the shoulder, but he heaped a lot more pain on an underserving populace.

"I think it's despicable," said Tanya Ennis, 50. "Black people are targeted. All black people are not bad. I'm not on welfare. I don't take handouts. I work as a compliance specialist for a mortgage insurance company. I own my own home. I own my own car . . . The cops were stopping every man with dreadlocks. Every black man was harassed."

"A black guy did it."

How many times have we heard this from white people desperately trying to find a way out of the messes they created in their own lives -- mostly recently right here in the Philadelphia area when suburban SUV-driving mom Bonnie Sweeten, under investigation for embezzlement and theft at the time, said that she and her young daughter were kidnapped by two black men, when in reality they were at Disney World. Maybe she was inspired by Boston killer Charles Stuart, the godfather of all "a black guy did it" cases.

Now comes a police Sgt. Robert Ralston -- seeking a promotion or to be honored as a hero or God knows what -- inventing a black guy "with cornrows" and tattoos whom he falsely claiimed wounded him in a shootout. Is that because the only black guy he could think of off the top of his head was...Allen Iverson? You get the impression that Ralston didn't even know anything about the people we were paying him to protect and serve for two decades. And when you read about a case like this, it takes the whole notion of a "post-racial America" in 2010 -- and blasts it right in the shoulder.

One footnote here is that the Daily News' cover article was written by the paper's recent Pulitzer winners, Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman, who showed that they aren't resting on their laurels; it would have been easy just to cover Commissioner Ramsey's press conference and phone it in, but they worked the story right up to the deadline to make sure that they captured not just the news of the firing of Ralston -- but the impact that his reckless and racist action had on regular citizens in a Philadelphia neighborhood. In this time of media upheaval, it's one more testament to the need for this kind of shoe-leather journalism here.

As for Ralston, it's hard to believe that he will not be charged with a crime, because there's only one word to describe what he did to the people of Overbook for a day.