I’m accustomed to Fraternal Order of Police president John McNesby denouncing black protesters and white allies who speak out against police shootings of African Americans.
He did so in 2014, using words such as “professional hatemongers” and “convicted thugs” to describe those who protested after grand juries declined to charge the white police officers who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner on Staten Island, N.Y.
But last week, during a “Back the Blue” pro-police rally at FOP headquarters in Northeast Philadelphia, McNesby used the phrase “rabid animals” to describe a mixed-race group of activists led by Asa Khalif of Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania and Isaac Gardner of the Coalition for Justice for David Jones.
Philadelphia Police Officer Ryan Pownall fatally shot Jones in the back in June, and the protesters led a rally outside the officer’s home. The pro-police rally was held in response, and, during that rally, McNesby, who could not be reached for comment for this column, engaged in yet another rant peppered with racially insensitive buzzwords. But this time, city councilmen, at least one state representative, and a district attorney candidate were among the overwhelmingly white crowd that witnessed McNesby’s outburst.
None of those elected officials said a word to counter the FOP president’s assertion that Black Lives Matter activists were animals, and that should alarm every Philadelphian — especially Philadelphians of color — because describing black people as animals is a time-honored racist taunt.
I am appalled that Council Majority Leader Bobby Henon, Councilman Brian O’Neill and Councilman Mark Squilla — all of whom collect city paychecks funded by the tax dollars of black and brown citizens — apparently said nothing to dispute McNesby’s words. Black people help to pay their salaries, and if our City Council members won’t even defend us against words that have the ring of racism, we need different representation.
The same goes for state Rep. Martina White, who ran for office with FOP support, and proposed legislation to allow police officers who shoot civilians to shield their identities from the public.
Republican District Attorney candidate Beth Grossman — also the beneficiary of an FOP endorsement — didn’t say a mumbling word, either.
And in a rally that seemed to take on the kind of hateful characteristics that have turned the thin blue line into a chasm between police and communities of color, our elected officials were complicit. Not only in their refusal to denounce McNesby’s comments when they were uttered, but also in their collective decision to remain silent in the ensuing days.
I’m disturbed by that ugly truth, and every Philadelphian should be disturbed, as well.
All of them had ample opportunity to say that, while they might disagree with the confrontational tactics of Black Lives Matter, they don’t see them as animals. All of them had numerous chances to say their constituents include people of every hue. All of them had the opportunity to look at the numerous published reports that repeated McNesby’s comments, and to distance themselves from the FOP president’s racially insensitive words.
None of them did that of their own volition. And even when I called their offices, only three of the five responded by press time.
Squilla said he didn’t remember McNesby calling Black Lives Matter activists animals, so I asked him whether he agreed with McNesby’s assessment.
“I don’t agree with any name calling of people to begin with, but I don’t agree with any name calling like that,” Squilla said. “I don’t remember the name being called at the event…
“Understanding when people get called names the first instinct is to call a name back — I know the police were being called racist pigs and [McNesby] was upset about it — but it doesn’t improve the situation by calling someone a name. Calling people animals doesn’t help the dialogue.”
Through a spokesman, White promised to provide a statement, but did not do so by press time.
Grossman did not directly answer a question about her failure to denounce McNesby’s racially insensitive remarks. Through a statement, she engaged in finger pointing.
“We can’t speak for John McNesby,” said the statement, which was emailed by Grossman’s campaign manager, James Williams. “But we see no distinction between his language and that of Larry Krasner supporter and endorser Asa Khalif of [Black Lives Matter]’s choice of words referring to cops as pigs and to a resident as white devil crackers.”
I pressed for an answer as to whether Grossman agreed with McNesby, and her campaign manager replied by doing what he claimed Grossman couldn’t do — speaking for McNesby.
“We don’t feel that McNesby was referring to black people, considering the majority of the protesters were white,” the statement said. “He was speaking about the protesters at the officer’s house, not the Black Lives Matter movement.”
I don’t believe that. I believe McNesby and other police union representatives all over the country are angry that black people have the audacity to stand up and say our lives matter as much as yours.
I only wish our elected representatives would stand up and say the same.