It is a scene known all too well. An unarmed black man lying on the ground surrounded by attackers who unleash a barrage of fists and feet, and then lead him away in handcuffs.
On July 12, 2000 this was the scene from 26th and Oxford Streets, when Philadelphia police apprehended car-jacking suspect Thomas Jones. The shocking incident was caught on videotape by a television news helicopter and broadcast around the world.
After a 10-month investigation, a Philadelphia grand jury determined that the 14 police officers who repeatedly punched and kicked Jones acted with justifiable force, according to a story in The Philadelphia Inquirer dated August 28.
If this is the way Philadelphia police maintain law and order — beating and kicking suspects into submission — then Philadelphians are in trouble, especially black men who, according to the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System, are arrested at almost twice the rate of other men.
And if excessive violence is considered justifiable force, then justice is also in danger.
Thomas Jones is not exactly a model citizen. News stories about Jones’ past reveal a career criminal, who specialized in purse snatching and car-jacking. But the July 12 incident isn’t about Jones or his past.
It’s about trained police officers losing control.
It’s about police officers determining guilt, innocence and punishment.
It’s about the growing sentiment from cases in Philadelphia, New York and Cincinnati that police officers are trigger happy when the suspect is African-American, and that that inclination is okay.
|In its 1998 report on police brutality, Human Rights Watch found that the plague of “corruption and brutality scandals” in Philadelphia has earned the city “one of the worst reputations of big city police departments in the United States.”|
It’s about who, if anyone, is policing the police.
Thomas Jones should have been arrested but not like this. Before being led away in handcuffs, and a neck hold, Jones suffered five gunshots and 59 blows from police officers injuries that landed Jones in the emergency room before he could be taken to jail.
According to Lawrence W. Sherman, Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Jerry Lee Center of Criminology, Jones was not the only lawbreaker in his taped arrest.
“Had I been a grand juror in this matter, I would probably have asked if officers could be charged with misdemeanor assault,” Sherman said.
Sherman said the force used was not aggravated assault because it was not life threatening but the 46 shots fired at Jones were, not only for him, but the residents of the North Philadelphia neighborhood where police opened fire.
This is not the first time Philadelphia police conduct has been called into question. Police fatally wounded Kenneth Griffin in 1997 and Donta Dawson in 1998 both black and unarmed. In both cases a Common Pleas judge ordered that officers be charged with third-degree murder. And in both cases District Attorney Lynne Abraham refused to prosecute, which has fueled charges of racial bias in the city’s justice system.
In its 1998 report on police brutality, Human Rights Watch found that the plague of “corruption and brutality scandals” in Philadelphia has earned the city “one of the worst reputations of big city police departments in the United States.”
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the grand jury found that 10 officers fired 46 shots at Jones. In a way Jones is lucky. Instead of being a victim of justifiable force, he could have been a casualty of justifiable homicide.
It’s not like it hasn’t happened before.
You can contact Kia Gregory at email@example.com.