by Len Lear

Now that police brutality is front and center as a national issue, it feels like the reign of Frank Rizzo, who essentially encouraged his almost all-white police department to be as brutal as they felt like being, with no concerns about any punishment from police or city authorities, was centuries ago. I cannot tell you how many black Philadelphians I interviewed and photographed for the Philadelphia Tribune with broken bones and cracked skulls from police beatings when Rizzo was police chief and mayor.

It was basically a reign of terror against blacks and gays. One transgendered North Philly person I wrote a couple of stories about, who had been rejected by her family and was badly beaten by police at least twice, committed suicide. I interviewed Rizzo twice. He could pretend to be decent, but he was basically a brutal, racist bully. It is about time his statue and mural, which never should have been erected in the first place, were taken down.

On another important current issue, a local journalist sent me this six-minute video last week featuring Kimberly Jones, a video many of you have likely already seen. (If not, it’s here.) Jones, who is from Minneapolis, is one of the most compelling, passionate and rhetorically effective speakers I have ever heard on seen on the issue of racism in America. Her point, made in colorful, vulgar (justified) language is that the looting and burning that took place in American cities recently after peaceful protests was justified because “white America has been looting from us for 400 years, so we are entitled to get back just a little.”

I am sure she will persuade many people who watch the video to her argument.

I get it. I can buy into her basic premise. Most history textbooks used in American schools soft-pedal the egregious evil perpetrated by white Americans in power against blacks for 400 years, not to mention genocide against Native Americans, wars of aggression and conquest against Hispanics, hideous exploitation of Chinese workers in the West, internment camps for Japanese Americans, persecution of gays for centuries, etc. And until relatively recently, very few white Americans had a problem with any of these evils.

But I literally have to draw the line when she says it is OK to loot and burn down Target in Minneapolis (as she did say), which the rioters did, and other stores because of what whites have done to blacks for centuries. What, pray tell, does Target have to do with slavery and segregation? It was founded in 1962 in Minnesota. To the best of my knowledge, it has never been accused by civil rights groups of discrimination.

And who are the employees in that inner-city Target store? They are black and brown people who will lose their jobs because there is no more employer. What about the compassion for them? Two ShopRite stores in this area were virtually destroyed by looters. ShopRite hires all neighborhood people, including mentally and physically disabled people whom no one else will hire. (I see them every week at the ShopRite in Roxborough.)

What about them? For years black community leaders have been complaining (and rightly so) that no supermarket will open in their areas. So ShopRite does open with much lower prices than corner stores, and they are looted and destroyed by criminals who are excused by Jones and those who agree with her.

I saw a video of an elderly black woman in Minneapolis whose neighborhood supermarket was destroyed. She had tears running down her face. “Where can I get my prescriptions filled now? Where can I get my food? I don’t have a car…” She is collateral damage to the looters. And what about the local small businesspeople of color whose stores were looted and/or burned? Whom are they supposed to blame for destroying what they have worked so hard for?

Police brutality in the inner cities is a horrific fact of life that I wrote about for years in the 1960s and ’70s when the daily media turned a blind eye to it. The few bad cops who beat and even kill innocent people should be prosecuted and jailed for years, and their right-wing union, which keeps getting brutal cops put back on the street, needs to be de-fanged.

Jones is rhetorically brilliant, passionate and compelling, but justifying random violence against innocent “Targets” is a morally bankrupt concept.

Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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