OPINION: Activists Encouraged by New DOJ Involvement in Police Shooting Incident

A member of the DOJ’s Community Relations Service with experience in Ferguson and Baltimore will act as a mediator between activists and the city over the June 8th killing of David Jones by a white cop.

Police shooting victim David Jones in an undated photo from Facebook.

When it was clear that Jeff Session would indeed assume the top leadership role at the U.S. Department of Justice, activists and city officials around the country questioned the fate of police-reform measures. Here, Mayor Jim Kenney, when the DOJ issued its final report on the progress made at the Philadelphia Police Department, said that the city is committed to reforming policing, no matter what takes place in Washington, D.C. The mayor, who was elected due a police-reform platform, now will be tested to see how sincere he was.

This week, another agency within the Department of Justice, the Community Relations Service – which intervenes in cities when there are real or perceived tensions due to cases that involve discrimination based on race or national origin — reached out to both Mayor Kenney and Police Commissioner Richard Ross about the police shooting of a black man, David Jones, by a white officer on June 8th. Suzanne Buchanan, a DOJ employee with whom I became acquainted April 2016 after a fiery town hall on stop-and-frisk in Philadelphia, has received demands issued by a broad group of activists working together as the Justice for David Jones Coalition and now will attempt to mediate the conversation. (Disclosure: I have signed my name to support these demands.)

Philadelphia hasn’t reached the level of an uprising, but there’s certainly more tension and aggression in the communities now than when the shooting first happened. City officials, including the mayor, have been confronted – the mayor called the shooting a “terrible situation” – and demonstrators, some of whom interrupted the July Police Advisory Commission meeting to lament their lack of investigation, were escorted out of City Hall earlier this week by police officers and sheriff’s deputies when demanding a meeting with City Councilman Bobby Henon, who represents the district in which the shooting occurred.

And not only have attitudes soured since the shooting, but the Justice for David Jones Coalition has grown now to include the Philadelphia Black Clergy and Vicinity, the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Action Network, and P.O.W.E.R, a racial justice interfaith coalition. Representatives of these group will gather on Friday at 10 a.m. to make public the following demands, which until now have been seen only by the DOJ.

Demands for Mayor Jim F. Kenney: 

1. Hire a permanent Executive Director for the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission, one that not only has strong ties to the social and racial justice community but who also has proficient investigative experience.

2. Appoint a full board of commissioners (according to the website, there are only 5 right now) and ensure that the board is reflective of the demographic makeup of the city.

3. Transmit a bill to City Council (and have Councilman Curtis Jones introduce it on your behalf) which proposes a change to the Home Rule Charter that makes the Commission a permanent agency with a budget over a $1 million (The Mayor, upon being elected in 2015, said his vision was to bring the PAC’s budget to $1.5 million over three years).

4. Sign a mediation document with the community and the Department of Justice

5. Call on the City Controller to do a cost/benefit analysis of stop-and-frisk: the David Jones shooting began with an unconstitutional search and seizure (PPD has yet to state the probable cause officer Ryan Pownhall had to initiate an encounter with a motorist).

6. Agree to a quarterly meeting (private/private) with social justice activists about Philadelphia policing (i.e. racial disparities in marijuana arrests, police brutality/use of force, evolving body camera policy and technology, and updates on PAC work and funding).

Demands for the District Attorney:

1. Empanel a Grand Jury to review all evidence pertaining to the June 8th fatal police shooting of David Jones and determine whether charges should be brought against Officer Ryan Pownhall.

2. Expand the scope of the investigation to determine whether Officer Ryan Pownhall showed good judgment and sound reasoning on the Day of June 8th (he abandoned his transport of a victim and their family; drove onto oncoming traffic and broke Directive 10 by shooting a fleeing person in the back: Commissioner Ross said there was no indication that Mr. Jones, when running away, made a furtive movement that would imply he’d turn around). 

3. Sign a mediation agreement with the community and the Department of Justice.

Demands for Police Commissioner Ross:

1. All Philadelphia police officers should carry contact cards (printed on the cards should be name, badge number, assigned precinct and number to PAC) and distribute them to citizens during any and all stops (pedestrian or motor vehicle).

2. All police cruisers should be outfitted with dashboard cameras by 2021 (2021 is the year PPD aims to have body-cameras on all uniformed officers).

3. Implement policy which requires immediate drug and alcohol testing for officers involved in fatal and non-fatal shootings.

4. Police department must provide counseling services to the witness and his two kids for as long as need, at no cost to them.

5. Sign a mediation agreement with the community and the Department of Justice.

Christopher Norris is an award-winning journalist and online content producer who co-hosts Pushback, a social-justice-themed podcast produced by Philadelphia magazine and WURD Radio 96.1 FM & 900 AM.