Police Brutality in Philadelphia is Nothing New
John Titlow | 07.24.2000
One may have found it difficult to turn on a television set or radio earlier this month and not hear the name Thomas Jones. This name is that of a car-jacking suspect in Philadelphia who, upon being arrested, was brutally kicked and punched by more than ten police officers. Stuff like this isn't too shocking in Philadelphia, but what makes this case special? The WPVI-TV Channel Six Action News Gyro-Cam was recording the entire thing. I was glad to see such exposure of police brutality in Philadelphia, but to further my surprise, when I awoke the next morning, the same video of the beating was being shown on NBC's Today Show and every other major national news program. For the first time in over twenty years, the national spotlight was being shone on the so-called City of Brotherly Love in connection with police brutality. Right away, Mayor John Street and Police Commissioner John Timoney were all over the news, begging the public to "not make any judgements" until investigations were complete. It doesn't take much more than the naked eye to observe more than a dozen police officers punching and kicking a suspect who showed no sign of resistance. City officials accused Thomas Jones of shooting at a police officer -- A likely story. While Jones shouldn't exactly be crowned a martyr of racial oppression and injustice (he had stolen an old woman's car and the bike of a 12-year old boy), it seems unlikely that he shot any cops. This claim does help draw sympathy away from Mr. Jones, but I think like much of that that the Philadelphia Police Department has said, it's false. Witnesses to the incident never saw Jones with any weapon and Commissioner Timoney verified that none of the officers' guns were missing. So how did he shoot Officer Livewell? He didn't. Another witness said they saw one officer raise his gun and accidentally shoot Livewell in the hand while they were trying to arrest Thomas Jones.
One can't help but be reminded of the confrontation between MOVE and the Philadelphia police on August 8, 1978. Four officers beat, kicked and brutalized MOVE member Delbert Africa as he surrendered with open arms while the news cameras were rolling. Three of the four officers were charged, but as expected, none were convicted. To add to the hypocrisy of the events, the city immediately demolished the crime scene and charged nine MOVE members with the murder of one police officer.
But all too often, it's the cops that are doing the killing. On the subject of MOVE, the obvious example would be the May 13, 1985 police assault and bombing of the MOVE headquarters on Osage Avenue which took the lives of eleven people. Just a week after the beating of Thomas Jones, Philly's finest are at it again. On July 18 at 30th Street Station, some more excessive force was applied when a schizophrenic homeless man was threatening the public with a metal chair. An Amtrak cop proceeded to shoot the man in the heart, killing him. Surely there were other ways to handle this situation, but once again the police have taken a life.
All of this police terror comes only a few weeks before the city hosts the Republican National Convention. As Philadelphia police are seen beating suspects and murdering homeless people, protesters are beginning to worry. Most demonstrations scheduled for the Convention are to be peaceful, but the cops seem as if they're gearing up for World War 3, dressed in riot gear, wielding semi-automatic weapons and body-sized shields. On July 21, the Police Department admitted to having spied on activists organizing their demonstrations within the city. Just a few weeks prior to this confession, Lieutenant Susan Slawson flatly denied that any such activity was taking place, as activists complained that they were being watched and photographed by mysterious figures from adjacent building tops. If police had their way and were able to attend these meetings, they wouldn't find any incriminating circumstances, but simply people who have a message that they would like to be heard. But if Philadelphia police can help it, these people will remain silent, even it takes excessive force.