Hi guys -- Will Bunch from the Philadelphia Daily News here (full disclosure, for geeks...and working journalists). I'm writing a book on how to revive American media called "The News Fix" for Vaster Books -- the company founded by Markos Moulitsas and Jane Hamsher -- that's coming out next year, and as the release date gets closer I plan to cross-post more of my regular posts from over at my blog, Attytood.
This appears to be a local issue, but it should concern all of us. Philadelphia is in the middle of what it's leaders are calling a "crime emergency". But they've turned to a cop whose stunning abuses against peaceful protestors in Washington, D.C., has already cost that city millions:
There was the student from Ukraine, who....
"never made it to her work-study job that day. Instead, she said, she endured plastic handcuffs that were too tight, hunger, filthy water, cold concrete floors, strip-searches and fear that she would be deported."
A 28-year-old videographer said he had his film ripped out by the police:
"Because we were showing people getting arrested on national TV, we got a little extra treatment," he said yesterday.
A 63-year-old former law-enforcement officer said he was...
still upset that he couldn't participate in the weekend's demonstrations because he was in jail for almost two days. "This is not America," he said.
So where was it? The gritty streets of Lahore, Pakistan? A former Soviet republic? Outside a Buddhist temple in Rangoon?
No. Actually it was America. The capital of America, in fact...Washington, D.C. This summer, city officials in Washington agreed to pay $1 million to more than 120 protestors who claimed they were illegally arrested when they took to the streets against the pending war in Iraq and the World Bank on Sept. 27, 2002. That was on top of other settlements by the D.C. government, including one for $640,000. (From the Aug. 2, 2007, Washington Post, via Nexis).
The police chief at the time admitted that he was wrong, that hundreds of protestors were busted and tossed in the slammer that day without ever having been asked to disperse or even warned that they might be arrested. With the largest lawsuit still pending, the assault on civil liberties in the nation's capital that day will ultimately cost the crime-ridden and poverty-plagued city millions of dollars in payouts.
In fact, the police chief that day was a man named Charles Ramsey, and as you may have heard, today Mayor-elect Michael Nutter tapped him to become Philadelphia's next top copafter Nutter takes the oath of office in January. The most obvious thing that Ramsey -- who led the D.C. police department from 1998 until last year -- and Nutter have in common is their love of term "emergency" for fighting crime.
Of course, that's also a popular term with Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf (left) these days, "state of emergency." So is it unfair hyperbole to compare the strongman of Islamabad with Philly's new commissioner, and his boss? Perhaps, but consider this: Ramsey has actually declared more "emergencies" than Musharraf -- four in eight years in Washington, compared to only one in Pakistan.
But the use of the word "emergency" isn't as important as what you do with it. With murders rising and an alarming spate of heartless thugs firing shots at police officers, killing one of them, most Philadelphians desperately want heightened police activity on the city streets. Still, from the time that Nutter surged to the lead in last spring's Democratic primary and heralded his "stop and frisk" law enforcement plan, some critics questioned whether civil liberties will be protected at the same time.
Look, I'm aware the city is an emotional tinderbox, and from what I've heard and read recently, some Philadelphians would be happy to chuck civil liberties out the window as a way to clean up the streets and avenge the cop shootings (even though most crime experts note it's actually possible to reduce crime and respect liberty at the same time.)
Well, put it this way: If you are a civil-liberties-chucker, then Charles Ramsey is your man.
Two years ago, under Ramsey, the D.C, police instituted a series of traffic checkpoints at which information about motorists who were breaking no law at the time was entered into a data base. The move was blasted as an "invasion of privacy"...not by a civil libertarian, but by an official of the police union.
Indeed, Ramsey clashed repeatedly with civil libertarians during his six-year tenue, according to news accounts in the Washington Post and elsewhere, on his push for fairly extraordinary powers to extend the youth curfew and on where to place surveillance cameras, decisions that other cities made with civilian input.
And cracking down on crime is one thing, but Ramsey's record on dealing with lawful and peaceful protests in the nation's capital is alarming. You can argue, if you want, that his department's actions in September 2002 were the result of a post-9/11 mentality, but how do you explain his handling of this protest way back in in April 2000, which drew the ire of the global Human Rights Watch:
Two World Bank employees were arrested on Saturday, April 15, near 20th and K Streets, N.W., while speaking with protesters. They report that other bystanders were also arrested. What was the justification for those arrests? Did police first give an order to disperse and were they allowed to leave the area?
What was the justification for the mass arrests of approximately 600 persons on Saturday, April 15? Were they allowed an opportunity to disperse before they were jailed, some for as long as 23 hours?
In addition to members of the press who were arrested during demonstrations, at least one photographer, Hee Soon Kim, from Hana News Picture Agency-Korea and the Associated Press, was clubbed until he fell to the pavement with his head bloodied near 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue on Sunday, April 16 at about noon. Two officers identified by witnesses in the crowd as involved in the beating removed their name tags. One reportedly had a lieutenant's gold-shield, and the other had a badge number of 178. Has this incident been investigated by the MPD's internal affairs unit?
Television footage showed several officers striking or pushing protesters in their faces with batons during encounters. Are batons ever supposed to be used above the shoulders when an officer is attempting to "control" or move an unarmed person,
Then there was the police misconduct at President Bush's 2001 inauguration, in which the city agreed to pay out yet another $685,000 in damages. According to an article in the Washington Post on Nov. 22, 2006 (via Nexis):
The lawsuit uncovered evidence that the department had suspended rules limiting the use of force during the protests, had pressed undercover officers to infiltrate protest groups and had sought to provoke protesters and uninvolved bystanders by attacking them with batons and pepper spray.
Are you beginning to see a pattern here?
[Mike] Shinn, a Bush supporter who went to watch the inaugural celebration, said he felt he was in another country when police pushed him, other spectators and protesters against a wall and an officer hit him on the head from behind with a baton.
Shinn added later in the article:
"You can't arrest people for just having opinions, as unpopular as they may be," he said. "You don't just arrest everybody on the streets because you think they might have an opinion. It flies in the face of everything that is America."
Yup. People do change, especially when they're forced to pay out big bucks, and so maybe Charles Ramsey learned a lesson or two after all the years of abuses that took place in the District of Columbia. Let's hope so, because it looks like we're stuck with him here for a few years.
In the meantime, the new top cop should carry this quote around in his wallet:
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
It's not from Pakistan. It's from his new hometown, Philadelphia...uttered by Benjamin Franklin.