An organization of black Philadelphia officers this morning commended the "swift" disciplinary actions taken by Commissioner Charles Ramsey against police involved in the May 5 videotaped beating of three shooting suspects.
"As Philadelphia police officers, we must be held to a higher standard," said Rochelle Bilal, president of the Guardian Civic League. "Our professionalism when interacting with the public must be maintained through the toughest times."
Surrounded by several active and retired police officers and African-American civic leaders, Bilal praised Ramsey's decision to fire four police officers, suspend three more, and demote another.
"Our organization supports his efforts to bring a swift conclusion to this act of police misconduct," Bilal said.
A Fox29 helicopter crew was flying overhead May 5 as 19 officers took three suspected gunmen into custody.
The video shows the officers pulling the suspects from a Mercury Grand Marquis on the 3700 block of North Second Street and forcing them to the ground.
Police said the three men - Brian Hall, 23, Dwayne Dyches, 24, and Pete Hopkins, 19 - had been involved in an earlier shooting at 4th and Annsbury Streets.
Several officers were taped kicking and pummelling the three men during an 11-minute melee.
The video was broadcast nationally and cast the department in an embarrassing light.
Bilal rejected the FOP's assertion that Ramsey had acted prematurely in dispensing discipline to the eight officers.
"The Commissioner has a right to make that decision," Bilal said.
She said the local Fraternal Organization of Police, in protesting the disciplinary action, was just doing its job.
"The FOP is the bargaining agent for all police officers," Bilal said. "The FOP believes the Commissioner rushed to judgement. But we viewed that tape - the beating was excessive."
One community activist who stood with Bilal at the press conference said he believed the Commissioner didn't go far enough.
"They all should have been fired," said Sultan Ashley-Shah, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Action Network.
"We will continue to push for the dismissal of all the officers seen on the tape doing bodily harm to these young men," said Ashley-Shah.
All three suspects continue to recover from serious injuries received in the beating, he added.
Ashley-Shah said the helicopter that filmed the beating wouldn't have been there if police believed they were only investigating a random shooting.
On the day of the beating, police were scouring the city for Eric Floyd, wanted in the May 3 slaying of Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski.
"They were tipped off. The Fox29 Skycam wasn't there for a shooting. There are shootings all over the city and they don't send a helicopter for those.
"They got a tip that Eric Floyd was in the area," Ashley-Shah said. "If you take Mr. Dyches photograph and compare it to Floyd's photo, they're almost identical twins. [The police] thought they had Floyd."
Officer Dana Gibson, who was working in the 35th District the night of the beating, said morale in the department had suffered after the blows of Liczbinski's death, the taped beating, and the subsequent discipline.
"We're still grieving over Sgt. Liczbinski," she said, her eyes welling with tears.
Gibson, who also attended the press conference, said she routinely worked with the disciplined officers.
"They're good men," she said. "I feel badly for them. It was an unfortunate event."
She hopes the rift between the department and the community will be healed.
"The erosion of morale has not only stricken the department," she said. "It has also spread like a cancer to those we are sworn to protect."
Ashley-Shah said disciplining the eight officers was a good first step to healing the divide.
"You have to begin somewhere," he said. "But we're going to have to rebuild the trust between police and the citizens if we're going to turn this around."