Ubiñas: Without trust between cops and citizens, we're just running in circles

Brandon Tate-Brown

ANOTHER DAY, another round of informational water-boarding in the police shooting of Brandon Tate-Brown.

Since Tate-Brown was killed in December, it has been one torturous drip after torturous drip of conflicting information: Tate-Brown was stopped by police on Frankford Avenue near Magee in Mayfair for not having his lights on. No, he was stopped because his vehicle matched one that had been involved in an earlier incident. Cops saw a gun and told him to get out of the car. Or maybe he was out of the car when they saw the gun. He was shot as he reached into the passenger side of his car to retrieve a stolen, loaded handgun from near the center console. Actually, he was shot running away at the trunk of his car.

Every time police have allowed a handful of people to view some of the evidence - on their terms, without pens or paper - about the only thing that's become crystal-clear was that this case cries out for an objective review. Sort of like the reviews on deadly police shootings recommended yesterday by a White House-commissioned task force led by Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.

But this column isn't really about Tate-Brown. It's no more about Tate-Brown than the questions and anger and protests that followed his death have been about one police-related shooting or one dead black man or one disastrous interaction between cops and citizens.

It's about what President Obama has described as "simmering distrust" between police and communities and the resulting clash when that distrust explodes onto the streets of cities across this country, including Philadelphia. The result isn't pretty, or perfect, but as the national cases have shown, unless they're acknowledged and resolved, they won't go away.

It's this reality that city officials - who are either hoping tensions blow over or indignant about answering to the public - aren't quite grasping.

After three overnight homicides last week, Ramsey took a dig at the recent protests against police-involved shootings by asking where the outrage was for the latest deaths.

"We've got 40 homicides in Philadelphia so far this year, 98 percent or so of whom are African-American. I think there should be some outrage about that," Ramsey told reporters.

Pouting aside, the man has a point - and he's hardly the only one who thinks the city would be better off if residents expressed the same kind of outrage about all the killings. I've said as much in previous columns and recently so did a cop I met for coffee. The residents in the North Philadelphia neighborhoods he patrols don't give a flying flip about Ferguson, he insisted when we talked about a Ferguson to Philly meeting about police shootings that followed Tate-Brown's death. He said they care about getting the drug dealers off the corner so their kids can walk to school and play outside.

If people are so keen on protesting, he said, he'd welcome them at the corners he's trying to clean up. I'd love to see that - even if we all know that would likely just push the corner boys to the next block.

But as much as I applaud this cop's passion, I don't believe the issues of cleaning up neighborhoods and outrage over deadly police shootings are mutually exclusive.

They're intertwined, which is why it's so complicated and messy. Of course people want their neighborhoods to be safe, but they also want to be able to trust the people who are charged to keep them that way.

Black-on-black murders deserve much more outrage within communities where they occur, but they do not dwarf the importance of transparency on police-involved shootings. And I'm not alone in that thinking. There are cops out there who feel the same way, who are ready for change in no small part because they are as tired of being targets of scorn because of their uniform as some residents are of being targets because of the color of their skin.

One officer told me that Ramsey has done a great job in reducing crime, but without public trust and the support of citizens, "the most monumental crime reduction can become worthless."

People have to believe in the police, not just what they say.

"[They're] all pieces to the puzzle and without all the pieces being properly aligned, the picture becomes distorted," the officer told me.

President Obama praised his task force's recommendations, which included increased data collection, use of technology and what will inevitably be one of the more controversial, yet key recommendation: independent prosecutors to review "cases of inappropriate deadly force."

He said he hoped that law-enforcement agencies "recognize the moment is now to make these changes."

Yes, Philadelphia, right now.



Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel


On Facebook: Helen.Ubinas