Anger is fine, but it isn't action

Nestel-PhillyAfterFerguson_600
Police officials including SEPTA Chief Thomas Nestel III spoke at the forum.

I HAVE NO PROBLEM with anger. Anger is my go-to emotion - and it's how plenty of people react to feeling mistreated.

So I wasn't surprised when things got heated at a town-hall meeting about tensions between cops and the community.

The name of the forum at the Catalyst for Change Church, at 38th and Baring streets, last week was "Philly After Ferguson." But, as someone pointed out, tensions between city residents and police way predate the tragic moment when a white cop killed an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo., last year.

At the meeting, it was the city's most recent police-involved fatality that brought emotions to a boil. Brandon Tate-Brown, 26, died on Dec. 15 after an officer shot him during a traffic stop in Mayfair. Police say he struggled with officers and reached for a stolen gun before officers shot him. His mother says police have refused to give her information.

She was understandably angry. So were many people in the church. But here's something I've learned - often the hard way - about anger: Even when justified, anger has to be handled carefully because it can be as powerful as the weapons that kill so many black and brown men in Philadelphia.

And at times the anger at the town-hall meeting seemed as misdirected as a stray bullet. (Let's just say it's a good thing SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel can take it on the chin, because it was more than a little inaccurate and distracting when he was accused by some in the crowd of being a racist. Know thy enemy, people, and this cop is not our enemy.)

Bottom line, however unwilling some were to accept this, is they were often preaching to the choir: The officers in attendance agreed that there's a history of mistrust between police and the community. But they also believe the national conversation taking place right now can help change that.

A few times during the meeting, it was tempting to chalk up the event as yet another circular conversation. Tune in next week, folks, and the month after that and the year after that for the same old arguments that never go anywhere.

Just when the discussion seemed to go hopelessly off the rails, someone would say something that made me want to jump off the pew and yell: "Yes! Right there . . . keep the discussion and focus right there!"

Like when someone said, and I'm paraphrasing here, that they weren't interested in banging on pots and pans like some little kids just out to make noise. Noise wasn't going to change anything. Action was.

And when Anton Moore, founder of Unity in the Community, asked perhaps the most important question of the night:

Why wasn't the president of the Fraternal Order of Police there to explain the mind-boggling arbitration process that helps put a lot of cops back on the force even after committing egregious acts?

Yes! Right there!

Consider how often Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has expressed his frustration at how the majority of police officers he fired for alleged wrongdoing have found their way back onto the force.

Consider that at the forum Nestel said that the arbitrary arbitration process is the No. 1 problem with weeding out bad cops, though I'm not sure the people calling him all kinds of names heard him.

That's where the focus should be. That's what needs to change: a mysterious, broken system that allows bad cops to continue policing and to tarnish good cops.

Be angry, but more than that, be thoughtful, be practical about how we might change things. It is a huge challenge, but one we must confront, one that I would be glad to tackle alongside right-minded people.

 


 


Email: ubinas@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

On Facebook: Helen.Ubinas