PHILADELPHIA — I don’t envy Danielle Outlaw.
Next month, Outlaw, 43, the former chief of police in Portland, Ore., will be sworn in as Philadelphia’s police commissioner.
Taking over from Acting Police Commissioner Christine Coulter, Outlaw will become the city’s first African-American woman to assume the most exasperating, draining and thankless municipal job in Philadelphia.
She’ll helm a 6,500-member force plagued by scandal. We’re going to ask her to sweep clean the squalid residue left behind by the Plain View Project, which caught hundreds of Philly cops making racist, sexist and Islamphobic social media posts about the very people they swore an oath to protect.
It’s awash in sexual harassment, and gender and racial discrimination lawsuits.
In October, the District Attorney charged police inspector Carl Holmes with sexual assault. Holmes allegedly used his rank and his position in the police academy to assault younger female officers.
In November, a cop with a reputation for punching arrestees was caught on video punching a known felon, resulting in dropped charges.
In December, Coulter promoted three cops with questionable records, including one who was accused of sexual assault and investigated by the FBI for lying on search warrants and stealing from corner stores, another who was arrested for fighting sheriff’s officers in Florida, and another one busted in the Plain View Project who has had four citizen complaints lodged against him in the last five years.
And next month, a fired white cop will be the first city officer to face murder charges in more than two decades in connection with the fatal shooting of a Black man.
We’re going to task her, unfairly and unrealistically, with straightening out a culture in which the corruption is generational.
Many in the Black community asked Mayor Jim Kenney to name an African-American woman chief of police chief and he delivered on that request. There is, however, an additional caveat here that should bring a smile to your face: Outlaw is also the mother of two Black sons.
This is important because our city has a young Black male problem that is twofold.
Of the 356 homicides that occurred in the city last year — the highest total since 2007, when there were 391 — 260 victims were African-American men, and 179 of them were Black men between the ages of 18 and 34.
Of the 1,463 shooting victims in the city last year, 1,211 victims were African Americans. Of that number, 799 were African-American males also between the ages of 18 and 34.
The other half of the problem results in the officer-related shootings that stir questions and doubts in communities of color over the intentions of some officers, something that is only compounded by the findings of the Plain View Project. Almost always, those shootings involve young Black men such as David Jones, 30, Brandon Tate Brown, 26, and Jeffrey Dennis, 36.
Kenney doesn’t like to talk about any symbolism related to Outlaw being a woman, preferring instead to say that he chose “the best of the 30 candidates I interviewed and the best one just happened to be a Black woman.”
I pressed him a little further about the importance of Outlaw raising two African-American sons and he said something I suspected he would.
“It’s absolutely important, especially when it comes to police interaction with youth of color in our city,” Kenney said. “She understands the trepidation that young Black and Latino men have to go through — women, too — when it comes to interactions with police. You never know what’s going to happen. And I think that she can get that through to our police force — that your first interaction with a police officer is a lasting impression that a person has. People need to be respected and they need to be shown respect. And if they are shown respect, they will give respect in return. They will cooperate with police more than they ever have. And we’ll be a safer city. And ironically, the officers will be safer, too. I think she is the perfect person to give that message to both the community and the police department. I’m looking forward to getting her started.”
You’re not going to find many more bonds between human beings that are tighter than the one between Black mothers and their sons.
While you’ll find some African Americans willing to go as far as to ridiculously label straight Black men the white men of the Black community, I promise you that these people have ulterior motives and are pretty much clueless and indifferent to what young Black men must deal with on a daily basis.
Outlaw isn’t. And that is a damn good thing.