Asa Khalif: The Face of a Movement

Left: Asa Khalif, photographed by Adam Jones. Right: Khalif protesting during the Mummers Day Parade on January 1, 2016 (Associated Press).

Philadelphia activist Asa Khalif is no stranger to controversy, but even he was unprepared for the slings and arrows of Breitbart.

As the Philly face generally associated with the national Black Lives Matter movement, Khalif had become accustomed to the kind of media scrutiny that comes when you, say, put a Klan hood on Philly’s iconic Frank Rizzo statue. Since 2000, as founder of diversity and civil rights watchdog group Racial Unity USA, Khalif has crossed swords with everyone from Rosie O’Donnell to Allen Iverson. He doesn’t often talk about how old he is or where he’s from — he says he finds the concepts spiritually limiting­ — but suffice it to say he’s spent most of his life in the Philly region, where he was raised by his black mom and white adoptive father. Recently, Khalif, who works in real estate and is the filmmaker of the short AmeriKKKa Black, has been involved in nearly every hot-button civil rights issue germane to Philly, from stop-and-frisk policing to racism in the Gayborhood. Read more »

The Biggest Winners and Losers in Philadelphia’s 2017 Primary Election

Clockwise: Black Lives Matter activist Asa Khalif, Democratic district attorney nominee Larry Krasner, Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police chief John McNesby, labor leader John Dougherty, City Controller Alan Butkovitz, ward leader Marian Tasco, and protesters at Philadelphia’s Women March.

Philadelphia’s election on Tuesday was a game-changer. The winner of the Democratic primary for district attorney is a criminal defense lawyer who has never prosecuted a case in his life and made a name for himself by suing law enforcement over alleged abuses and representing progressive activists like Black Lives Matter. A young ex-budget director crushed incumbent City Controller Alan Butkovitz, the ultimate political insider, in an upset victory.

Those two Democratic nominees, Larry Krasner and Rebecca Rhynhart, are the race’s biggest winners. But who are the other winners and losers — the issues, interest groups, and kingmakers — in the election? Here’s our list: Read more »

OPINION: Black Lives Matter’s “Black Only” Meetings Aren’t Racist

Black Lives Matter Philly at a protest in April 2015.

Black Lives Matter Philly at a protest in April 2015.

I consider myself an intersectional feminist. Despite being a man, I personally stand as a proud ally for women’s rights and support their equal upward advancement in society. Within activist spaces in some of Philly’s feminist circles, there are moments in which male allies are encouraged to listen and not weigh in. Phrases such as “don’t occupy too much space” or “amplify marginalized voices” not only remind me of my privilege as the opposite sex in such arenas, but also set legitimate terms of agreement.

Sometimes, there are portions of the conversation during which men are asked to leave due to the sensitivity and privacy some women may request. As an ally, I have no other choice but to respect those requests given that I recognize that support to advance women within their movement should center them and not myself. Any impediment that I might personally pose to their demands for a safe space in which women can freely express themselves would be selfish and further destabilize their power within their own movement — which would be the absolute antithesis of being a feminist. 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 »

The D.A. Candidate Who Threw His Hat in the Ring at the Last Possible Second

Jack O'Neill | Photo courtesy of O'Neill's campaign

Jack O’Neill | Photo courtesy of O’Neill’s campaign

Jack O’Neill kicked off his campaign for district attorney at the last possible minute. Literally.

The first time the 35-year-old Democrat was described as a candidate by the news media was when he submitted 1,776 signatures on his nominating petitions last Tuesday — the deadline for candidates to submit their paperwork to appear on the ballot. Before then, O’Neill hadn’t put out so much as a press release about his electoral ambitions.

Politicos were left scratching their heads: Who is this mystery man? And why would he jump into a race that already had six Democrats at each other’s throats?

“The reason I got in later than most people was because I was not going to run against Seth [Williams] in a campaign that seemed like it was going to be about trashing Seth for his personal problems,” says O’Neill. “I didn’t think it would help the city. I didn’t think it would help the D.A.’s office. I didn’t think it would help people’s confidence in law enforcement.”

O’Neill spoke with Philly Mag last week for nearly an hour. He talked about his experience prosecuting the “Kensington rapist,” his plan to expand the city’s crime-fighting Focused Deterrence program, and why he believes he is the most qualified person in the race to implement big reforms. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Read our Q&As with the other D.A. candidates in the May 16th election here. Read more »

Meet the D.A. Candidate Who Led Philly’s Civil Asset Forfeiture System

Beth Grossman | Photo courtesy of Grossman's campaign

Beth Grossman | Photo courtesy of Grossman’s campaign

Beth Grossman was a prosecutor for more than 20 years, serving in every unit in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.

From 2007 to 2015, the Republican led the city’s public nuisance task force, where she shut down nuisance bars, cleaned up abandoned lots, and cracked down on out-of-state slumlords, she says. The task force also handled civil asset forfeiture, which enables district attorneys to seize people’s cash and homes even if they are not convicted of a crime. The system has come under fire nationwide from both liberals and conservatives in recent years; Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said this month it “has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses.”

Grossman is proud of her time in charge of the city’s civil asset forfeiture program. She says she used the law to seize drug dealers’ homes and improve the quality of life in neighborhoods. “A neighbor called to thank me for getting rid of a drug house next door to him. He told me that he could now sit on his porch again,” she says. “Enjoying the basic joys and comforts of one’s home without crime negatively affecting his or her safety and quality of life is something that everyone in Philadelphia should be able to do.” Read more »

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