OPINION: The Rizzo Statue Isn’t Going Anywhere

rizzo, eggs

Police guard the Frank Rizzo statue earlier this month. | Photo by Caroline Bartholomew

Thanks to a group of white dudes who decided to go to Charlottesville, Virginia, kill someone, and ruin tiki torches for the rest of us, we’re having a nationwide discussion about monuments.

The discussion of whom we honor, what we honor, and where memorials should go is long overdue — because, let’s face it, memorials are designed to teach as well as commemorate.

While we’re not quite on the level of the statues of the Confederates that seem to be littering the landscapes of the American South left and right, Philadelphia has gotten involved in this discussion because it has its share of problematic monuments.

Probably the most problematic is located at the top of the stairs of the Municipal Services building in the form of a statue of former Mayor and Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo. Read more »

Stop Using the Poor to Justify Your Hatred of the Soda Tax

Sodas for sale in a refrigerated case

Photo by Marlith (license)

For reasons that I’ll get into later in this column, I don’t eat a lot of pie. But over the Fourth of July weekend, I had a slice of sweet potato pie from ShopRite, and it was pretty decent.

Grocery store entrepreneur Jeff Brown owns a chain of ShopRite and Fresh Grocer stores in places throughout Philly mostly populated by people of color — places that were once designated as “food deserts.”

He’s also one of the leaders in the movement to repeal the city’s sweetened beverage tax. When you walk into any of his stores, a section filled with drinks not covered by the tax — complete with the largest sign in the world hanging overhead announcing their levy-free status — practically grabs you by the throat.

When I talked with him about it on a mutual friend’s Facebook page, Brown told me the tax needed to be abolished because it was costing jobs. My response was that it needed to stay because, as a former teacher for the School District of Philadelphia, I saw how badly kids in our city need pre-K.

Then Brown broke out the “this tax hurts poor people” talking point that tax opponents have been using, and I got angry. Read more »

When Children Force Us to Remember What We’d Rather Forget

Photo Credit: Peter Morgan | AP Photo

If you’re a newcomer to Philadelphia, chances are you’ve walked by the Municipal Services Center and paid very little attention to the statue that stands in front of it.

The statue is one of Frank Rizzo, the city’s former mayor and police commissioner. Because incidents like the death of David Jones at the hands of Officer Ryan Pownall during a traffic stop were pretty commonplace during Rizzo’s watch, there have been more than a few calls for his statue to go the way of many Confederate monuments.

In the Rizzo era, police brutality was more commonplace than it should be. The best-known account of this was the time Rizzo’s officers strip-searched members of the Black Panther Party in front of a Philadelphia Daily News photographer. It wound up on the front page.

It’s Philadelphia’s history of police abuse that has led to the creation of a historical marker commemorating the May 13th, 1985 confrontation between Philadelphia police and the Black nationalist group MOVE. Unfortunately, it’s a marker without a home at the moment. Read more »

OPINION: The Black Community Should Take No Joy in Bill Cosby’s Mistrial

Photo by AP/Matt Rourke.

In 2004, comedian Bill Cosby was honored by the NAACP as part of its 50th-anniversary celebration of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education ruling.

During an acceptance speech that’s now better known as the “pound cake” speech,” the comedian went off on the Black community in a rant that covered everything from children’s names to bad parenting to even the way Black children dressed.

He talked about a “culture of poverty” that Blacks chose to live in and how it was more responsible for the community’s ills than the institutional racism might be a part of one’s daily existence.

It was a tour de force of respectability politics, with bons mots like this: Read more »

A Celebration of Resilience in a Changed Neighborhood

Photograph by Darren Burton

The neighborhood surrounding the intersection of Grays Ferry Avenue and South Street has been named and renamed a few times over the years.

Southwest Center City. Naval Square. Schuylkill Square. South of South. Graduate Hospital. (Or, for the hipsters among us, G-Ho or So-So …)

Thanks to development (or gentrification, if you see it that way), the composition of the neighborhood has also changed as the members of the African-American working class who called it home have been replaced by the kind of people who would actually call their neighborhood So-So and mean it as a compliment. Read more »

Progressives, I Am Done With You

Photo courtesy of the Krasner campaign.

Now that Philadelphia’s district attorney race has been set and we know that it’s going to be a battle between Republican Beth Grossman and Democrat Larry Krasner, I have a confession to make.

I don’t care if I never hear the word “progressive” again.

Seriously. Read more »

What Republicans Could Learn About Free Speech From Philly’s Hebrew Israelites

Photograph by Denise Clay

I’ve always been a big fan of spring.

We as Americans tend to talk reverently about spring because it’s seen as a time of renewal. Flowers bloom. It’s baseball season. Heavy coats give way to jean jackets and cardigan sweaters. Everything feels new.

Now, every city has it’s signs of spring. In Washington, D.C., it’s the cherry blossoms. You can smell the magnolias in Charleston, South Carolina. In my family’s home state of Kentucky, spring means shopping for just the right hat to wear to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby. Read more »

What’s Behind the DOJ’s Abdication on Checking Police Abuse

Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Photo by Jeff Roberson/AP

Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Photo by Jeff Roberson/AP

On Wednesday, a judge in Baltimore denied a Department of Justice request to delay a public hearing designed to let city residents share their views of a consent decree that was brokered between the Baltimore Police Department and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

The decree, which mandated sweeping reforms designed to curb a range of civil-rights abuses by the police, was negotiated after the April 2015 death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, a Black man who died in police custody.

To her credit, Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh has said she’ll go forward with the reforms despite the pass the Justice Department wants to give her. But because the Police Brutality Batphone has been ripped out of the wall of the Department of Justice in Washington, it’s probably not the last time that the agency will go to court to prop up the Thin Blue Wall. Read more »