#JusticeforDJ: Prosecute Ryan Pownall and End ‘Stop and Frisk’ in Philly

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Black Lives Matter PA, friends and Family of David Jones, POWER Interfaith, Coalition of Black Clergy, and Socialist Alternative call for #JusticeforDJ outside PPD HQ on July 28 2017
June 8th, 2017 was a warm early summer evening, and David Jones was riding his red dirt-bike up Whitaker Ave in near Northeast in Philadelphia to meet a potential buyer. He was looking to sell the bike, because even though they are commonly ridden throughout the city, they are not ‘street legal.’ He was afraid the bike would bring him and his family problems with the law. He was right.

Like many Philadelphians, David had previous interactions with the legal system as a young person, and he was working hard to turn his life around and take care of his family. David, known as DJ to friends and family, was Black and grew up in Philadelphia. After high school, he was arrested for selling weed. He was convicted and did his time. When he was released on parole, he followed the rules to the letter. He put himself through school to get his Commercial Driver’s License, and with family and community support, he got a job with an over the road trucking company, despite the challenges that having an arrest record bring. The night he was shot and killed by the police, he had just bought a house in Juniata and was looking forward to a new start with his wife and son.

Instead of meeting to talk about selling the bike that night, DJ was shot in the back as he fled on foot from Philadelphia Police Officer Ryan Pownall, who was violating several department protocols to conduct a ‘stop and frisk’ while in the middle of another task. Officer Pownall is assigned to the 15th Police District in Mayfair, but pulled DJ over in Juniata.

When Officer Pownall stopped DJ for riding the dirt-bike, the police officer was transporting 2 young children and their father to the Special Victims Unit. One of the children was the victim of an attempted kidnapping and assault.

During the altercation, DJ was shot in the back 3 times while running away from Officer Pownall. According to the police report, a gun was found at the scene that allegedly belonged to DJ, but none of the witnesses, including the cop, saw him draw a weapon or threaten the officer.

According to PPD protocol, similar to policies in other cities, police officers are prohibited from pursuing anyone riding a dirt-bike, because of the high risk of accident and injury. Police officers are also prohibited from using deadly force “ unless they have an objectively reasonable belief that they must protect themselves or another person from death or serious bodily injury.” DJ was running away from Officer Pownall, attempting to flee and end the conflict. Previously in possession of a gun or not, there was no immediate danger to police or bystanders.

Police video, police reports, and eyewitness accounts differ on details but essentially agree that DJ was running away from the cop when he was shot and killed. DJ was hit by 3 bullets in the back and buttocks. A gun was found at the scene which is reported to belong to DJ. Amazingly, even the Police Commissioner Richard Ross had said that after watching the released video of the shooting that it has “given him pause”. Apparently he is still paused, because the people of Philadelphia, including David Jones family, are still waiting for the prosecution of Ryan Pownall after months of “investigation”.

Shockingly, DJ’s June 2017 murder is not the first time Officer Pownall shot a fleeing suspect in the back. In 2010, Ryan Pownall shot Carnell Williams-Carney, another Black Philadelphia man,  in the back as he fled from an altercation during a ‘stop-and-frisk’ in Frankford. Williams-Carney didn’t die after Pownall lodged a bullet in his spine, but is forever disabled, permanently losing the use of both his arms and legs.

After the 2010 shooting, the City Solicitor’s Office investigated the incident, but dropped their case against Pownall. Afterwards, Williams-Carney’s family filed a civil suit against the PPD, but Pownall was found not guilty again. He returned to his job patrolling Philadelphia streets without consequences.

DJ is not the first Black murder victim of 15th Police District officers. Officer Nicholas Carrelli shot a fleeing Brandon Tate-Brown during a traffic stop in Mayfair in December 2014.  Tate-Brown’s family has brought a federal lawsuit against the PPD after no one was held accountable for Brandon’s killing.

The tenor of recent protests held by DJ’s family and friends outside the 15th District headquarters and outside the District Attorney’s office have been that of grief and anger. Authorities have been silent on details of their purported investigation, but few have any reason to believe that Officer Pownall or the PPD as a whole will be held accountable for DJ’s murder.

The PPD’s systemic violence against Black and Brown people must end. Officers, specifically in the 15th District, have detained, shot and killed community members with complete impunity. Unfortunately, state-sponsored violence will continue unless we unite as a movement against police violence and organize to make concrete demands on this broken system.

To win Justice for DJ and other victims of police brutality and to halt future killings and daily harassment in our neighborhoods, we must exert sustained pressure on public officials and the PPD.

Many of our elected officials, including Mayor Jim Kenney, have made unfulfilled promises to enact important reforms. First, there is immediate action they can take to prosecute Officer Ryan Pownall under the full extent of the law. Mayor Kenney and Police Commissioner Ross can end Stop and Frisk as a PPD policy. Additionally, Philadelphia has a Police Advisory Commission with no legal authority to hold the police accountable. The City can legally empower this Board to act.      

We call on Mayor Kenney, Police Commission Ross, and District Attorney Hodge to:

 

  • Prosecute and Jail killer cops like Ryan Pownall and Nicholas Carrelli. The PPD and the City must move forward as quickly as possible to prosecute Ryan Pownall and hold him accountable for his actions on June 8th and other documented misconduct on the job.  
  • Immediate End to the Racist “Stop and Frisk” policing policy, which overwhelmingly criminalizes and injures people of color and feeds Trump’s deportation machine. Mayor Kenney ran on ending Stop and Frisk as Mayor and he should act NOW to end it.
  • Put the PPD under the control of an elected civilian review board with real teeth: full powers over department policies, enforcement priorities, investigations, and selecting new leadership. Philadelphia needs democratically elected community oversight boards with full powers over the police, including department policies and procedures.

 

Additional Demands:

    • End Cash Bail and Civil Asset Forfeiture, leave money in the hands of families impacted by excessive policing of Black and Brown communities.
    • End the War on Drugs! Stop prosecution for small amount of marijuana, end cooperation with DEA, expand the city’s drug courts and diversion programs for low-level offenders.
    • No Tolerance for White Supremacist police and other law enforcement officers who openly espouse racist ideas or body art or distribute racist literature.
    • End Excessive Sentencing and Solitary Confinement
    • Keep Philly a Sanctuary City and Close Berks Detention Center — no detentions or deportations for our immigrant brothers and sisters. No collaboration with ICE or state or federal immigration authorities.
    • Police out of Philly Schools! Our schools must be safe spaces for children to learn and grow.
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15 Now Philly Statement on HB 1520 – $15 Minimum Wage Legislation

15 Now Philly stands with workers, their unions and other community and faith organizations pushing for the $15 minimum wage in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Representative Kim’s bill is the result of the tireless and brave work of low wage workers who repeatedly took the risk to go on strike in fast food restaurants, airports, healthcare facilities, and retail stores across the country and across the state. In Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, hundreds of workers walked off the job to demand $15 and a union. Thousands of local activists and faith leaders in groups like POWER and the MLK Dare Coalition took the streets to support striking workers. In City Hall, 15 Now Philly members pushed City Council for a local minimum wage hike to at least $15 an hour, in defiance of state opposition to local wage hikes.

Together our organizing brought the $15 minimum wage in Philly from an inconceivable pipe dream to a mainstream demand. In 2015, Mayor Kenney campaigned on $15 an hour; and now Representative Kim and Senator Daylin Leach have both introduced statewide legislation to raise the wage in PA to $15. This is a victory for workers, and we are hopeful HB 1520 is signed into law as part of the 2017-2018 budget negotiations.

Despite these years of hard work, Philadelphia is in crisis. We have the lowest minimum wage in the nation–$7.25 for untipped workers and $2.83 for tipped workers. A full third of our neighbors live in poverty, and 12% live in deep poverty. Every day, working class people and our families are facing life or death choices between housing and medical attention, buying food or maintaining their phone service.

Every single surrounding state has taken action on raising the minimum wage; and in the face of income inequality crises like ours, cities across the nation are daring to fight for workers wages. New York city and state fast food workers are on a path to $15. Washington DC voters easily passed a referendum for $15 in 2016. West Coast workers have achieved $15 nearly universally.

In Minneapolis, workers won $15 just last week after a tough campaign that lasted several years. The victory was won by building a broad grassroots movement that grew out of an airport struggle for $15. The fight included unions and community organizations and was propelled forward by a third-party electoral challenge to City Council by Socialist Alternative candidate Ginger Jentzen, who is also the executive director of 15 Now Minnesota.

In Philadelphia, now is the time for serious action. Jim Kenney and many City Council members campaigned and were elected overwhelmingly on the demand for $15 an hour. In fact, polls show 87% of Philadelphians support a $15 minimum wage.

15 Now Philly is fully aware Harrisburg believes it holds the legal monopoly on passing minimum wage legislation. Republicans, corporate Democrats, and big business have intentionally constructed barriers to a minimum wage hike in Philadelphia with the 2009 preemption law. They intend to keep our city powerless to confront our own wage crisis.

It is Philadelphia’s extreme poverty, however, that places our whole city in a state of emergency. We cannot settle for politicians unwilling to take dramatic action to face this emergency.

If Harrisburg lawmakers do not pass this bill as part of the closed-door budget negotiations, we call on Pennsylvania Democrats to continue to push this stand-alone bill forward after the budget is settled. Pennsylvania workers demand a raise, and our State legislators must prioritize minimum wage legislation all year long, not just as leverage in the yearly budget negotiations.

Locally, we again call on our local Democratic elected officials in City Council and Mayor Jim Kenney to pass binding $15 minimum wage legislation immediately, in defiance of the Pennsylvania’s preemption law. We must confront this unjust law head on. 

Workers, unions and community organizations must build and maintain a mass movement in the streets to win any wage hike in Philadelphia. We know Trump and the GOP in Washington, DC and Harrisburg will continue to reduce our wages, assault our health care, deport our immigrant neighbors, and expand mass incarceration and police violence in our communities until we unite and expand our fight back.

Philadelphia’s elected officials, however, can stand up to these attacks with us and make Philadelphia a true sanctuary city. Doing whatever it takes to win a $15 minimum wage is a critical piece of making our city a safe haven for working people.

In Philly, Invigorated MLK March Embraces $15 Minimum Wage

Nearly 47 years ago, Dr. King was assassinated when Black Civil Rights advocates expanded their demand to include economic justice for African Americans. In 2015, the Civil Rights Acts had been passed and state sanctioned segregation was put to an end, but legal equality has hardly changed the material conditions of Black Americans. In Philadelphia, a city with a large Black population, the majority of workers still face low wages, horrible working conditions, and a lower quality of life than white workers.

This year, in the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests, Philadelphia faith institutions, community organizations and unions resolved to reject the sanitized MLK “day of service” and instead uphold Martin Luther King’s true legacy of radical direct action. Moreover, the MLK Day of Resistance, Action and Empowerment (MLK DARE) embraced bold demands for true economic mobility and to improve the quality of life in Black neighborhoods.

The marchers called for an end to racist police practices like stop and frisk, for a civilian police review board with real power, for fair funding and democratic local control of our schools, but critically, the broad MLK DARE alliance emphasized the demand for a $15 an hour minimum wage. In the Philadelphia Inquirer, Rev Gregory Holston boldly proclaimed that MLK DARE is “pressuring the city to raise the minimum wage locally to precipitate a legal showdown over” the state’s ban on raising the minimum wage.

In less than a year, the convergence of #BlackLivesMatter and #Fightfor15 has elevated the $15 minimum wage from obscurity to the center of political debate in Philadelphia. Nearly 7,000 residents filled the streets calling for a $15 minimum wage in Philly. Next 15 Now will struggle alongside it’s new allies of faith and labor unions to turn this bold demand into a material reality for working class Philadelphians.

On Martin Luther King, Jr Day we chanted and marched for justice, instead of listening to the lies of washed up establishment politicians. We voiced our demands with the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr, who was slain for suggesting that capitalism was a failed system and demanding that Black people be entitled to a higher quality of life.

15 Now Philly Statement on 9/4 Fast Food Worker Strikes

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15 Now members in Philly are proud to stand in solidarity with Fight for 15 fast food workers who are bravely going on strike today for $15 and a union. These workers are on the frontlines of the most important worker movement in recent memory. But higher wages for fast food workers are only the beginning. 15 Now Philly members are organizing ALL workers in Philadelphia to demand at least a $15 an hour wage floor. McDonalds isnt the only bad employer in Philly. Look at Comcast, Aramark, the University of Pennsylvania, Stephen Starr restaurants, Rite Aid. These bosses CAN pay $15 an hour, and Philadelphians deserve $15 an hour. Over 30% of us live in poverty, and continuing to allow this is an unecessary stain on our city.

People have told us that raising the minimum wage in Philadelphia is impossible, because of the preemption from Harrisburg.  But we want to be absolutely clear that the 1% has written these laws to keep our city in poverty. The truth is: The only thing that’s impossible is winning any victory for workers by following the wealthy’s rules.

Did auto workers in the 1930s follow the law when they waged nationwide sit-down strikes that brought millions of workers into unions over a series of months? NO. Those strikes were not legally protected like today’s, but they were just and necessary. Workers had no neat legal process to form a union by petitioning the NLRB. So they struck at their workplace and they forced the bosses to the table by interrupting production and hitting the 1% right in their bottom line.

It’s clear today that fast food workers and healthcare workers are willing to do what it takes to win $15 an hour here. But are are our elected officials willing to do what it takes to fight for 15?  We in 15 Now are tired of playing nice, of living in poverty while our elected officials throw up their hands and say there is nothing they can do. We don’t accept that logic. When wealthy corporations tell City Council to break the rules for them, our elected officials say yes every time. Now Philadelphia’s workers are asking that City Council afford us the same luxury as CEOs.

We call on city council and Mayor Nutter to take immediate action to raise the minimum wage in Philly to $15 an hour NOW.

 

Follow Philly 15Now Here

Mike Brown, Sunday’s Ferguson Rebellion & the Struggle for Black Liberation

Photo via @UrbanCusp
Photo via @UrbanCusp

Ferguson, a working class suburb north of St. Louis, erupted with outrage this weekend over the murder of Mike Brown, an 18-year-old African American boy, by a police officer. While mainstream media outlets largely ignored yet another police killing of an unarmed black youth, hundreds of grieving Ferguson residents took to the streets in the immediate aftermath of the shooting and demanded justice, many raising their arms and crying in unison “Please don’t shoot me.”

Witnesses of the murder say that Brown was walking to his grandmother’s apartment when a police officer in a patrol car told him and a friend to “get off the street.” Brown and his friend continued walking when the officer exited his car and fired a shot at the two men. Brown put his hands in the air and began to get down on the ground while the officer fired repeatedly, killing him. The Ferguson police department claims that Brown attacked the police officer and was shot afterwards, despite eyewitness accounts to the contrary.

It is clear that Mike Brown’s murder is yet another occurrence of the rampant police violence targeted at people of color across the United States. Last month, NYPD officers murdered Eric Garner, an unarmed black man selling loose cigarettes. In an under-reported incident in April in Philadelphia, two police officers in plain clothes shot 20-year-old Phillippe Holland, an unarmed African-American pizza delivery driver, after he drove away from them, thinking the officers were attempting to rob him. Holland did not die but was severely injured after being shot in the head, neck, and back.

Sunday night’s vigil in Ferguson was met with a heavy police presence. As the protest wore on, some participants engaged in looting and a local gas station was burned down. These actions represent the growing frustration and anger with unpunished police brutality, flagrant racism, and income inequality in America’s black working class neighborhoods.

Many onlookers are calling this looting “violence,” whereas a careful look reveals that the only “violence” that resulted in the injury of a human being yesterday was perpetrated by the state and by the police. Unfortunately US law under capitalism (and in turn the US media) prioritizes the preservation of corporate property over the destruction of black bodies.

Every capitalist state relies on this type of violence to reinforce and maintain property relations and systemic oppression. The police in such a state do not exist to protect and serve a diverse working-class, but the (largely white) ruling class and their corporations.

The question of Black liberation, however, does not easily reduce to a simple class question. There are special circumstances involved in the oppression of black people that require special attention and demands. The Ferguson rebellion cannot be dismissed as an unorganized or random occurrence and should not be called “the wrong way to express frustration.” Rebellions occur when a critical mass of oppressed people feel they have no other way to impact an unjust situation. Time and time again, police officers who brutalize people of color are treated with impunity, and Mike Brown’s friends and family now have no reasonable expectation of “justice” from the state. A police officer kills a black person every 28 hours in America. Nothing can bring our Mike Browns or Trayvon Martins back from the dead, and no amount of vigils or peace walks seem to be able to stop police violence in the future.

The Ferguson Rebellion demonstrates that working class people of color who are the victims of police brutality are actively seeking some alternative to our feckless elected leaders’ promises to “investigate” the police or “hold officers accountable.” All working class people–that’s you and me and everyone who is angry about Mike Brown’s death– need to build powerful organizations with an eye not just on punishing aberrant individual police officers, but on fundamentally overturning America’s racist police state and the capitalist system that relies on it.

Here in Philly there is a long history of police repression and corruption. The other day we were greated with the news of yet another scandal involving stolen drugs, money and planted evidence. Not only do the residents of Philly’s working class neighborhoods have to deal with unemployment, poverty wages, crime, and cuts in basic services, but we also have to suffer violence at the hands of those who are supposed to ‘protect and serve’.

We cannot rely on the city, state or feds to prosecute corrupt or violent police officers. We need independent democratically elected community police review boards with the power to investigate, discipline and dismiss racist, corrupt and violent officers. We need an end to ‘stop and frisk’. We need an end to the ‘war on drugs’ that is criminalizing our youth. We need decent schools and jobs in our communities.

It is the task of socialists to fight racism and all oppression with class unity, to build strategic channels for righteous anger that funnel energy towards dismantling the weapons of the ruling class, especially the weapons that overwhelmingly brutalize our black and brown brothers and sisters. These multiracial revolutionary channels will be built as we struggle together for a just socialist world. We stand in solidarity with the protesters in Ferguson and will be out this Thursday at 7pm at Love Park to stand alongside all Philadelphians building a movement against racist police brutality in our city and across the US.

Budget ‘Victory’? New Cigarette Tax Is No Solution To The Manufactured Crisis In Philadelphia Public Schools

Last week, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a state budget that once again fails to address the needs of the working class residents of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania.  However, our state’s Democrats are lauding this budget and a “hard-fought” public school funding deal that lawmakers say will provide only $45 million to Philadelphia’s public schools as a legislative victory.

Philadelphia’s Democratic Mayor Michael Nutter, echoed state Democrats and called the cigarette tax deal “possibly one of the greatest turnarounds” in recent legislative history.  The cigarette tax deal pushes the burden of funding public schools further onto the backs of working people, characteristic of “sin” taxes on cigarettes and other controlled substances.

We need a more equitable funding formula for public schools across the state, not another sin tax.  Implementing regressive sin taxes on Philadelphia’s residents, the state’s poorest population, to fund our students’ constitutionally-guaranteed right to public education is THE LEAST our elected officials can do. The cigarette tax represents an abhorrent lack of imagination and complete lack of political spine from the Democratic politicians who tell us they represent the interests of the working class, while the state’s Republican lawmakers are more blatant with their attempts to defund urban schools. Neither of our political parties could do less to raise revenue for our schools.

Moreover, there is speculation that Democratic legislators may have traded votes with Republicans and agreed to gut public employees’ pension plans later this month. In essence, our elected officials won the permission to impose regressive taxes on workers in exchange for cutting workers’ retirement plans. We do not call this a win for Philadelphia workers or students– it’s yet another another false choice.

This backroom deal is also decidedly not, as Mayor Nutter called it, any sort of “turnaround” in the way our city and state has raised revenue for basic public services. We must be clear: this  cigarette tax deal is more of the same we’ve seen from Philadelphia’s politicians. Philadelphia’s Democratic leadership has aided and abetted corporate welfare at the expense of the working class interests for decades.

Democratic Philadelphia State Representative Jim Roebuck, who is the chairman of the House Education Committee, said in an email to his constituents, “I and other Democratic legislators have been working hard to find other ways to make sure Philadelphia schools can open safely this fall. The least the current majority [Republican] party can do is to allow our city to come up with more local funding.” Getting the Republicans permission to further exploit the working people of Philadelphia is all the Democrats are able to achieve. Both parties have failed.

Elected officials need to implement policies such as ending the millions of dollars in corporate handouts to Comcast and Shell, ending 10-year tax abatements to large real estate developers and wealthy property owners, and holding big banks like Wells Fargo accountable for the destabilizing interest-rate swap deals that continue to drain millions of dollars from our city and the School District of Philadelphia. Our lawmakers should renegotiate bad-faith and deceptive deals made with big banks to ensure our public money funds public institutions, not Wall Street’s profits.

We as Philadelphians must recognize that these unceasing and sweeping cuts to public services and infrastructure are not merely going to disappear by voting Governor Corbett out of office in November 2014. Cuts for the 99% are the agenda for both Democrats and Republicans. Both parties serve the interests of big business and big banks and will continue to make policies that allow the wealthy 1% and their corporations to dodge taxes, while saddling the poor with higher taxes for lower quality services–until we stop them.

The drive for profit over the needs of working class families, and the monopolistic power of the corporate few is inherent to the nature of capitalism. Capitalism doesn’t work for the 99%.

Now is the time to build mass opposition to these continued attacks on our living standards. The only way to do this is to build our own political power, including running candidates  independent of the Democrats and Republicans, to fight big business in the street and at the ballot box.

It’s time to build an independent, alternative, political party funded entirely by organized working people, backed by a mass grassroots movement of workers and youth. Socialist Alternative works to help build such a party and to give it a fighting socialist program which can win victories for the working class, like we showed in Seattle. Freed of the monied interests of corporate power, we will be able to challenge the neoliberal economic agenda that is stripping Philadelphia of its wealth.