Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, goes the old saying. Oh, really. That’s not always the case when it comes to political corruption cases against black public officials. In the 1980s, I covered Birmingham’s first black mayor, Richard Arrington Jr., who was investigated by federal authorities who seemed convinced that the smoke they saw indicated a fire. But Arrington was never prosecuted. One has to assume former Philadelphia Mayor John Street would have been indicted had that bug in his office produced any tangible evidence. And what about the late Bill Gray, whose abrupt decision to leave Congress in 1991 fueled speculation that the Feds were about to pounce? Speculation about Gray persists, even though the Justice Department, at the time led by Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, a Gray nemesis, issued a statement more than 20 years ago that said Gray was not a target.
Chaka Fattah now represents the same Philadelphia district that Gray served. But unfortunately for Fattah, a federal investigation of his office has not only produced smoke, it may be about to burst into flames. Richard Naylor, a former aide to Fattah, has pleaded guilty to concealing misuse of campaign contributions and federal funds. Naylor says he conspired with a person identified in court filings as “Elected Official A.” Naylor said some of the money was used to pay off the college loans of the elected official’s son. Prosecutors have not revealed the identity of Elected Official A, but much of the known evidence against Naylor concerns his work in 2007, when he was Fattah’s chief strategist in a failed run for mayor of Philadelphia.
Fattah has issued a statement: "In all my years as a public servant I have never engaged in any illegal conduct." But he has not otherwise commented on the federal investigation. Meanwhile, Philadelphians can’t help but wonder why some public officials succumb to temptation. Most politicians don’t run for office solely for their own benefit. Could it be that some of them stay in office too long, thus increasing the opportunities to be tempted? Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean term limits are the solution. Rather, it’s the responsibility of voters to stay informed and retire politicians who put themselves above their constituencies. That’s not always easy, especially with many news organizations reducing their political coverage. But fewer politicians would choose deceit if they knew they were being watched.
Even as hundreds continued to protest the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman in a St. Louis suburb, a much smaller group of protesters – only three, in fact – formed a picket line in a South Jersey town Tuesday to call attention to a more common form of racism that often rears its ugly head when you least expect it.
In this case, it happened at a liquor store in Swedesboro, where several African American customers say they were treated rudely and refused service. Similar complaints last year by the local NAACP chapter led to King’s Liquor Store’s license being suspended for 30 days. But there have been two new complaints of racism this month by black patrons who said they observed white customers being waited on after they were denied service.
Woolwich Police Chief Russell Marino told the South Jersey Times there have been complaints about the liquor store for years. He said the store’s owner, Mario Falciani, has been rude to others as well, but that “in the last couple of months, it’s been leading more to race than anything else.”
After months of depicting Bashar Assad’s tyrannical regime as a cancer that must be removed, the Obama administration is faced with possibly helping the Syrian government to fight a common foe — the Islamic State terrorist group.
It may serve as a useful history lesson to blame the rise of ISIS on President Obama’s earlier reluctance to provide decisive military assistance to the more moderate groups rebelling against Assad, but hindsight won’t resolve the current situation.
Assad would love for U.S. air strikes to help him win Syria’s three-year civil war. Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said “any effort to combat terrorism should be coordinated with the Syrian government.” But if air strikes help Assad’s forces, what would the United States do next to support Syrian rebels other than ISIS?
The bitter taste of disappointment won’t last. The Taney Dragons were eliminated from the Little League World Series, but the exhilarating ride these young baseball players gave their hometown was too good to let their defeat evaporate the high spirits they created. Philadelphians are supposed to reserve such feelings for the Phillies or Eagles. But this talented team of adolescents stole this city’s heart.
At age 13, pitcher Mo'ne Davis has become the stuff of legends. The young lady’s earlier shutout in the first Little League World Series victory pitched by a girl was a work to behold. It served to bury for good the Little League’s position decades ago that girls weren’t capable of competing with boys. We expect to hear more from Mo’ne, and not necessarily in athletics. In interview after interview, her intellect and demeanor stood out as her most admirable attributes.
It also serves as some solace that the Dragons were eliminated from the World Series Thursday night by a cousin of sorts, another inner-city team with the talent and determination to exceed expectations. The all-African American Jackie Robinson West team from Chicago, like the diverse Taney squad, sent a message that minority kids haven’t given up on baseball. They just need the opportunity to play.
Having grown up in Birmingham, Ala., when civil rights demonstrators were attacked by police dogs, I have always had a particular opinion about the police. It changed some when one of the guys who lived down the street from me became one of the first black officers on the force. But I still harbored some reservations about the police, and over the years have seen or heard about enough incidents to almost instinctively believe allegations of police officers’ abusing their authority.
For me, there is no surprise when I hear of tragic deaths like that of Eric Garner, who died in a New York policeman’s choke hold, or Michael Brown, who was shot six times by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer who had stopped Brown and a companion for jaywalking. Too often, the police officers accused of excessive force are assigned to low-income, higher-crime, mostly minority neighborhoods where they act more like prison guards than public servants.
Their behavior reminds me of a scene in the film based on the book “The Reader” in which a former Nazi concentration camp guard says during her trial for war crimes that she didn’t unlock the doors of a church during a fire because the Jews being held captive would go free. Similar to that concentration camp guard with her Jewish prisoners, some police officers no longer see humanity in the faces of young black men in urban neighborhoods. They only see criminals or potential criminals.
Two visiting journalists from Ukraine quickly schooled me when I referred to the conflict in their country as a “civil war.”
Yulia Pankova is an investigative reporter for the NTN television station in Kiev. Maria Usenko does investigative stories for Slidstvo.Info, also in Kiev. During a visit Tuesday with the Inquirer Editorial Board, they said Americans need to understand that this is a war of aggression by Russia against Ukraine. They said Russian sympathizers are fighting for the Russians, but that is not the same as a civil war.
Through an interpreter, the journalists said they are worried about the hardships that the people of their country are enduring as a result of the war. They want the United States and Europe to continue putting economic pressure on Russia to stop its attempts to annex Ukrainian territory.
Having suggested that Sen. Bob Casey lacked a spine earlier this year, when he seemed to bow to pressure in failing to support an imminently qualified candidate to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, it would be wrong of me not to acknowledge his backbone’s reappearance. The Catholic, antiabortion Democrat put those credentials at risk by voting for a bill that would have overturned the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby ruling, which exempted some family-owned businesses from offering employees a full-range of contraceptive coverage in their health insurance plans if they had religious objections.
The court agreed with the owners of the Pennsylvania cabinet-making company that several specific birth-control methods are considered by some religious groups to be the equivalent of abortion. But Casey told The Inquirer, “I’ll go with the scientists on what contraception is, rather than a religious viewpoint of what science is.” He also said he was worried that the court ruling would allow company executives to use their religious beliefs to restrict access to other types of health coverage.
The bill was voted down Wednesday by the Senate. But at least Casey took a position that he believed was right despite the potential political damage. He has done that before -- including in 2012 to support new gun laws after the Sandy Hook School shootings, and last year when he endorsed same-sex marriage. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t take a similar risk to support Debo Adegbile’s nomination to the Justice Department post. Critics misrepresented Adegbile’s role with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund when it provided legal counsel to Mumia Abu Jamal, who was convicted of murder in the 1982 shooting of Philadelphia police Officer Daniel Faulkner. Instead of being a voice of reason, Casey joined the emotion-driven, anti-Adegbile throng.
Our quote of the day comes from none other than Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett.
After a long contentious battle over school funding, where Philadelphia Democrats begged Harrisburg to enact a $2-a-pack tax that would be levied only against city smokers, a no-brainer in any other political climate, the House finally passed the measure late Wednesday. This came after Corbett said over the weekend, "I would encourage the delegation, the Democrat delegation, from the city of Philadelphia ... to give the votes to get a pension bill done so they can get a cigarette tax done so they can get additional funding for the school district of Philadelphia," adding "It's in their hands." The statement was met with outrage and derision by the Philadelphia delegation and Mayor Nutter.