There are certain things in the interview process that are absolute no-nos; things so egregious that they absolutely destroy any chance that a prospective candidate should have at getting the job in question.
And Acting Philadelphia Police Commissioner Christine Coulter has definitely done at least one of them.
The first woman to ever sit in that office after she replaced Richard Ross upon his abrupt resignation earlier this year, Coulter apologized last month after a photo surfaced of her wearing a T-shirt in the early 1990s mocking the animalistic beating of Black motorist Rodney King at the hands of white Los Angeles police officers in 1991.
Her shirt read: “L.A.P.D. We Treat You Like a King.”
“It’s clear it was a bad decision on my part and I would not wear that shirt today,” Coulter said at a City Council meeting. Then she rolled out her victim card, saying she was “frustrated” someone would take a picture of her and turn it into something “ugly or mean-spirited.”
The most telling aspect of her mea culpa, however, was Coulter, who is white, saying, “it may have meant something to people in LA. … I can’t remember giving it a thought. But I certainly can’t say I thought it meant Rodney King.”
That Coulter said this of an early 1990s incident that made national news demonstrated an incredible lack of self-awareness.
Her bio on the Philly PD website touts her master’s of science in public safety management, notes that she teaches graduate-level courses and has received numerous awards, and closes by saying her “compassion for people and commitment to fairness and public safety help shape her leadership style and fuel her law enforcement decisions.”
Perhaps Coulter, a member of Philly PD for nearly three decades, earned all of these accolades after she demonstrated a peculiar sense of obliviousness surrounding the King beating.
It is troublesome that the gravity of five days of rioting in the nation’s second-largest city that left more than 50 dead and 2,000 injured and caused more than $1 billion in damages could be lost on a police officer as it apparently was on Coulter.
One would think that a cop, no matter how young, working in a city like Philadelphia, which at the time had 620,000 Black residents, more people living in poverty than any major city in America — the majority of them Black — and a violent crack trade, would at a minimum be intellectually curious about the L.A. riots.
This is especially so when you consider that the aforementioned characteristics of 1990s Philadelphia are considered risk factors for riots.
This is not to say that Coulter is a racist; but it’s also not to say, unequivocally, that she is not.
However, if we have learned anything from the the findings of the Plain View Project, which showed thousands of police officers posting reprehensible things about Blacks, gays and women on social media, it’s that our police forces tend to be safe havens for bigots and oftentimes promote them to the very top.
Such is the case with former Bordentown, New Jersey, Police Chief Frank Nucera.
Nucera, 62, is facing federal hate crimes charges. A federal indictment accuses him of slamming a Black teenager’s head into a doorjamb in 2016. While doing so, he’s alleged to have yelled “Donald Trump is the last hope for white people, cause Hillary Clinton will give it to all the minority to get a vote.”
The indictment also accuses him of saying to a subordinate cop in 2015, “these n—–s are like ISIS, they have no value. They should line them all up and mow ‘em down. I’d like to be on the firing squad.”
If these allegations are found to be true, one can only wonder if there were not at least some red flags along the way indicating Nucera harbored such blatantly racist beliefs, especially before he got to the point where he is now — collecting a $96,000 annual pension that he might lose.
Which brings us back to Coulter.
Mayor Jim Kenney intends to pick a permanent police commissioner by the end of the year. Kenney’s office is paying a Washington-based police research and policy organization to help with the selection, and they are interviewing candidates both internally and externally.
The city has also launched an online survey in an effort “to gather the public’s feedback and to provide any other feedback they think we should consider.”
These are the right things to do. But to hire a candidate who gave little consideration to what happened to Rodney King and the riots that ensued — today, yesterday or the day after it happened — such as Coulter, is not.
John N. Mitchell is a columnist and reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this piece first appeared. His work appears frequently on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected].