Michael Nutter’s Beautiful, Empty Words About Ferguson

Does the mayor practice what he preaches?


OK, we’ve probably beat up on the Philadelphia Police Department enough for one summer. We’ve suffered through a new scandal, retreaded an old scandal, questioned the connection between this department and the tragic events of Ferguson, Mo., and seen the rise of a new movement to increase the department’s accountability to the public.

Most of this was necessary.

But before we we leave the summer — hopefully for a future filled with mutual respect between police and citizens, the highest ethical standards for each, and the end of “no snitch” culture — let’s consider one last thing: The words of Mayor Michael Nutter.

Nutter this week released a statement, along with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, urging that peace and calm take root in Ferguson. It praised Attorney General Eric Holder for investigating the police there. And it urged the city itself to consider what kind of policing it wants in the future.

Here’s what Nutter and Landrieu said on the last count:

We support community policing practices that treat young black men as community members deserving of the respect to be protected and served as all citizens. We must also work to end the negative stereotyping and character assassination of our children and begin to celebrate our young black men for the assets and contributors they can be and are to our society and communities. We can begin this process by facilitating conversations between young black men and law enforcement in cities across the country.

Huh. Well.

That certainly seems to raise some questions for Mayor Nutter:

• Does Philadelphia practice community policing that “treats young black men as community members deserving of the respect to be protected and served?”

• Is that the case even though the ACLU has found that the city disproportionately targets minorities for “stop and frisk” treatment — with 76 percent of stops and 85 percent of frisks targeting minorities?

• Is that the case even though, as the ACLU found, black men are the most of arrestees for marijuana possession even in the city’s majority-white police districts?

• Has Philadelphia, under your leadership, really worked to end the “negative stereotyping and character assassination of our children?”

• Is that the case, even though you once stood in a church pulpit and lectured “our young people,” and in particular “our young African American boys and girls” to do the following?

Take those doggone hoodies down, especially in the summer. Pull your pants up and buy a belt, because no one wants to see your underwear or the crack of your butt. Nobody. Buy a belt. Buy a belt. Nobody wants to see your underwear. Comb your hair. And get some grooming skills. Comb your hair. Running round here with your hair all over the place. Learn some manners.

• Do you think that language in that widely lauded speech played into stereotypes? Especially since, by your own admission, the incidents that triggered the speech involved involved less than 1 percent of our youth?

• And finally: How do you think the conversation between young black men and law enforcement in Philadelphia is going? How well is that being facilitated?

I don’t want to be too rough on the mayor. Maybe there are better answers to the questions posed here than is publicly apparent. His words to the people of Ferguson were wonderful. I just hope he’s working as vigorously he can to make them true here, in the hometown where he lives, leads, and serves.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.