I rarely blog about my personal cases for obvious reasons, but I feel comfortable writing about a client of mine (I will call him Mr. B) because he assured me that it was alright to do so.
Mr. B wants attention brought to his situation because he feels that a great injustice was done to him.
Here is his story:
Mr. B owns a small bordega in a very rough part of Philly.
On the evening of May 30th he was in his store tending to his day to day business when a gentleman came in and started harassing him over a transaction that was made in the store.
Mr. B alleges that the man gave him a five dollar bill and insisted that it was a twenty, and he wanted more change than Mr. B was willing to give him after he made his purchase.
The man became loud and abusive and started threatening Mr. B and his young daughter who was in the store at the time.
Mr. B called the police and they arrived on the scene in three marked cars. After much discussion, and evidence gathering, the police decided that the man should go on his way and there was not enough evidence presented to take any further action.
But then it got interesting. A police supervisor (we call them white shirts here in Philly) came on the scene and asked Mr. B if he had a gun. Mr. B said that he did and had a permit to carry it in his store as he carries large amounts of money from time to time, and his store is in a rough area of town.
Mr. B gave the officer his gun and his permit, and he was held and questioned for over two hours while officers prevented anyone from coming into the store.
The officer left with his firearm and permit, and did not write an incident report or give him a receipt for his permit.
This is when Mr. B contacted your truly, as he is now worried about everything that transpired that evening.
Anyway, I am doing what lawyers do, and hopefully Mr. B will have his firearm back real soon.
The thing is, though, I am thinking of contacting the NRA. I am thinking that this is the type of individual that they should be fighting for.
I have been all over them in the past, but I am going to give it a shot and give them a call on behalf of my client, Mr. B.
I will keep you posted.
I thought about folks like Mr. B when I read the article that I am about to drop on you.
Folks like Mr. B never seem to get the type of justice and proper policing that they deserve.
And yes, here it comes:
Do you think that if Mr. B was in another part of town and looked a little different than he does, that the police superintendent would have reacted in this way when called to his store?
I know; neither do I.
So on to the article.
"On the morning of March 11, 2008, shortly after the bus picked up his twin brothers for preschool, Emill Smith stopped by the house of his mother, Valerie Maxwell, in Chester, Pennsylvania. At 22, he was stocky and athletic, with dark eyes, faint facial hair, and a cursive tattoo on his right hand: "R.I.P. James," in memory of his father, who died in his sleep when Emill was 12. They talked for a while, and he asked if he could pick the twins up from school that afternoon so they could spend time together.
That afternoon, Emill took the four-year-olds to McDonald's and his place before dropping them off at Valerie's: "They almost set the apartment on fire," he joked. "Here, you can have them." As he walked out, he stopped.
"I love you."
"I love you more."
At 7:15 p.m. that night, Valerie dialed Emill's number to make sure he was home in time for his 7:30 curfew, part of his probation for disorderly conduct in a domestic dispute. No answer. A few minutes later, one of Emill's friends rushed in and collapsed.
Emill had been to a neighborhood bar, where a security camera recorded him dancing, hanging out by the pool table, and kissing an old friend on the forehead before leaving. As he got into his car, someone walked up and shot him several times. No one was ever arrested in connection with the crime, and odds are no one will be. That's because, while Chester has one of the nation's highest homicide rates, it has a far lower than average "clearance rate." Not even one-third of last year's 30 homicides have been solved, a rate less than half the national average. Since 2005, 144 killings have gone unsolved.
For generations, black frustration with policing has been best described in a two-part statement: Cops don't care enough to solve crimes in our neighborhoods—they just come and harass our kids. Novelist Walter Mosley even built a best-selling detective series around a tough private investigator who does all the serving and protecting that cops won't do on the black side of town.
The bitter irony is that it was this same complaint that helped spawn the aggressive policing tactics now under attack from Ferguson to New York City. In the 1980s, when crack and heroin syndicates swept through black neighborhoods, black parents and pastors were some of the first and loudest voices to demand a war on drugs. What they got was "broken windows" policing—an emphasis on curbing petty offenses to prevent more serious crime.
What they also got were mandatory minimum sentences for shoplifters, indiscriminate stop-and-frisk sweeps, and deadly choke holds on men selling loose cigarettes. There's little evidence that these tactics contributed much to the national decline in crime. But they did erode trust in law enforcement across many communities—leaving places like Chester increasingly bereft of the protection they badly need. With residents both fearful of police and worried about being targeted for talking to them, detectives can't find the witnesses they need to solve crimes, breeding further distrust and a vicious cycle of frustration. A 2014 New York Daily News investigation found that in 2013, police solved about 86 percent of homicides in which the victim was white. For black victims, the number was just 45 percent. And in high-minority communities like Chester, says David Kennedy, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, clearance rates for murder—and even more so for nonfatal shootings—can get "pathetically low. They can easily fall down to single digits."
Founded as the settlement of Upland in 1644, Chester once thrived on industry—its shipyard supplied Union soldiers, its steel mills sustained residents through both world wars, and factories, including a Ford plant, offered good jobs for black and white residents through the 1950s. Residents flocked to movie theaters and nightclubs, and legends like Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played streetball at "The Cage."
But in the 1960s and '70s, companies left Chester for other parts of the county, and the city starved for jobs and tax revenue. Toxic-waste processing plants were among the few businesses moving in as middle-class families headed to the suburbs, leaving the city with nearly half its postwar population. And in the '80s, Chester, like nearby Philadelphia, became a hotbed for organized crime and drug trafficking.
Today, smoke still drifts from the stacks of the Kimberly-Clark plant on the Delaware River, where workers make Scott tissue and paper towels. Up the hill are clusters of well-kept redbrick houses around Crozer Medical Center, the city's largest employer. Across Chester Creek are boarded-up homes and the city's Ruth L. Bennett and William Penn housing projects. Some 75 percent of Chester's residents are African American, a third live below the federal poverty line, and unemployment is at 7.5 percent, nearly 2 points higher than the national average. In 2013, the homicide rate here was more than four times that of Philadelphia and Chicago. And in a city of a little more than 34,000, each death sends ripples throughout the community.
There are at least 120 churches in Chester, including the Temple of Brotherly Love, presided over by the Reverend Calvin Williams. Williams lost a son and a nephew to gun violence, and over the last decade, he and his wife, Patricia, have been visiting crime scenes as often as possible, offering prayer and reflection behind the yellow caution tape. "When brothers and sisters can't get jobs, or this little guy is trying to take care of his mother, he's going to find a way," Williams says. "So it becomes territorial. He's trying to make a living, so he's going to do whatever's he's gotta do."
When Williams heard that Emill Smith, whom he knew from volunteering at Chester High School, had been killed, he headed to his mother's house immediately. When she opened the door, Williams held her tight and said nothing. "He let me cry," Valerie says. "Calvin knew, he just knew how I felt about my children. My children mean everything to me."
Just five months after Valerie buried Emill, police found her aunt Sherrice Alexander-Hill's son Karim Alexander dead in the street behind her home—the first of what would be six homicides that week. Some of the killings seemed to involve retaliatory violence between warring neighborhood crews, according to local news reports. But that's conjecture, because cops haven't solved Karim's murder either.
What determines the likelihood of a murder case being solved? One factor appears to be police response in the hours and days after a killing: According to a study published in the National Institute of Justice Journal, the faster officers secure the scene, notify homicide detectives, and ID witnesses, the more likely it is the killer will be brought to justice.
But that can be hard in a place like Chester, says Cory Long, a community leader who worked on the city's anti-violence task force, because the relationship between police and community is so strained that residents are often reluctant to come forward. Witnesses not only fear police won't protect them from retaliation, they simply don't believe law enforcement will help them find justice.
"Some of these issues have been going on with the same neighborhoods," Long says. "You know, generations under them. One guy gets locked up. His younger brother or cousin or relative will take [the retaliation] on, as they get a little older. It just keeps recycling and recycling." There was a time when homicides mostly resulted from turf wars between neighborhoods, but now, he says, "it has spiraled a little more out of control. It's a free-for-all."
Homicide, at its core, is an intimate crime. In any given city, criminologist Kennedy points out, gun violence is concentrated among a small number of residents in struggling neighborhoods. When someone gets shot, the news travels quickly. "People know what happened," Kennedy explains. "So if the criminal-justice system isn't taking care of this, the likelihood that you'll get your friends and a gun and take care of this goes up." [More here]
Yes, my frustration with how the police do their work continues, and the situation in places like Chester, Pennsylvania justify my frustrations.
Poor policing and the lack of police involvement will always lead to a breakdown of police and community relationships.
Just ask Mr. B.