The 3 big numbers Pa. lawmakers need to remember on police reform | Wednesday Morning Coffee

June 10, 2020 7:26 am

Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown and police Chief Joseph Coffay kneel with protesters (Capital-Star photo by Patrick Abdalla)

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

See that image up there? That was the scene in Wilkes-Barre last week as Mayor George Brown and city police Chief Joseph Coffay took a knee with protesters to honor the late George Floyd, who was killed in police custody in Minneapolis two weeks ago.

Similar scenes have played out across the state over the last 14 days, and not just in the state’s largest cities, though protests in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have been notable for their intensity. Working with readers, The Capital-Star has identified protests in 103 communities across the state, in locations as seemingly unlikely as Erie and Punxsutawney to across the Philadelphia suburbs.

Yes, the debate over reform has largely been driven by progressives, who are mainstreaming the long- overdue notion of slashing law enforcement funding and channeling it into social welfare and economic opportunity programs that address problems before they start. Still, the cross-section of the protests proves that the hunger for change cuts across party, age, race and gender lines.

That’s also reflected in recent polling data. And with that in mind, here are three, big numbers for lawmakers, particularly the Legislature’s Republican majority, to keep in mind as they embark on a debate over more than a dozen police reform proposals.

59 Percent:

That’s the percentage of voters in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released over the weekend who said they were more concerned about the death of George Floyd, the unarmed Black man who was killed in police custody in Minneapolis two weeks ago, than they were about the 14 days of protests that his death has sparked.”I think when people look at the situation, they’re trying to look at the central cause of the situation, the spark that ignites all the fires,” political analyst Steven Schier told KARE-TV in Minneapolis. “It’s very clear the death of George Floyd is the spark that created all the disruptions. And keep in mind the power of the visual image. People remember visual images much better than they remember written words.”

The intensity of that sentiment, unabated now more than14 days later, should be a clear signal to lawmakers, again, especially majority Republicans, that this isn’t an instance, such as in the case of mass shootings, where they can wait out voters, and hope that things die down. If one thing is abundantly clear, it’s that the protesters are in it for the long haul. And, as was the case during the Civil Rights Movement (the nearest comparable moment), they’re not going anywhere, and won’t accept anything less than measurable change as an answer.

A protester yells at Harrisburg police chief Thomas Carter during a June 1, 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in response to the death in police custody of George Floyd. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

74 percent:

The percentage of respondents to an ABC News/Ipsos poll, conducted last Wednesday and Thursday, who said Floyd’s death was indicative of larger problems in how law enforcement treats Black Americans. Over the last few days, we’ve seen Republican lawmakers across the nation, and right here in Pennsylvania, attempt to minimize the problem, and say that the actions of a handful of officers shouldn’t be the measuring stick for all law enforcement officers everywhere.

While it is undoubtedly true that all police officers are not racists, just as all protesters are not looters (another tired line), there is now enough of a pattern, even with the last five weeks, to establish that there is a systemic problem with how law enforcement interacts with Black Americans, and when those incidents turn fatal, that those officers do not face any legal consequences for their actions. And if you say that it can’t happen here, we’d refer you to the death of the late Antwon Rose of East Pittsburgh, who died in a police shooting two years ago this June. The officer implicated in the case was later acquitted.

(Dept. of State, screen capture)

1.34 Million

That’s the combined total number of Democratic primary voters who cast ballots for former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in last Tuesday’s primary election. President Donald Trump, facing only token opposition polled at an entirely respectable 1.01 million votes, according to unofficial tallies posted to the Department of State’s website.

Nonetheless, the more than 340,000 votes separating Trump from the aggregate ballots cast for Biden and Sanders is a yawning gulf compared to the 44,000-vote margin that handed Pennsylvania to Trump in 2016, when he bested Hillary Clinton. 

Stipulating that November is still light years away, and that it’s unclear how many disaffected Sanders voters may take their ball and go home, the vote tally is still a warning shot for Republicans on the intensity of Democratic sentiment in a pivotal battleground state.

All 203 members of the House, where Republicans have seen their majority steadily eroded, and half the 50-member Senate, where the GOP majority is stronger, are up for re-election in November. Any failure to act this summer will be the shot that launches a million Democratic campaign ads.

We saw in 2006 what can happen when Democrats have an opportunity to run against an unpopular president — they captured the state House, and built upon their majorities in 2008. Twelve years later, the Philadelphia suburbs, which delivered those victories, are even more reliably blue.

And while President George W. Bush was merely wildly unpopular in 2006, Trump comes into 2020 galactically unpopular, and as a rallying point for a Democratic coalition that, while it may not be in love with Biden, hates the president even more.

Which means it’s likely — but not guaranteed — that Democrats will come out in similarly strong numbers in November. And if they have an axe to grind over police reform, 2018’s Blue Wave might end up looking like the kiddie pool.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
Stephen Caruso
 has everything we know so far about the police reform bills that are now in play under the Capitol dome and what might become of them.

The House and Senate have sent Gov. Tom Wolf a resolution undoing his COVID-19 disaster declaration, Caruso and Elizabeth Hardison report.

A state House committee has advanced legislation blocking Gov. Tom Wolf from signing Pennsylvania up for a regional greenhouse gas reduction initiative. Cassie Miller has the details.

Members of Pennsylvania’s Democratic U.S. House delegation have thrown their support behind an array of police reform bills, Washington Bureau Chief Robin Bravender reports.

Fourteen members of Philadelphia City Council have demanded police reforms and rejected Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed funding increase for the department, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, Lawrence County attorney Matthew T. Mangino says the U.S. Supreme Court once took it upon itself to police America’s police forces and could do it again by striking down the doctrine known as “qualified immunity.” And St. Joseph’s University political scientist Joseph Powers explains the stakes of ensuring a timely vote count this November.

(c) Scott Van Blarcom –

The Inquirer
 says ‘tens of thousands’ of mail-in ballots were turned in after the deadline — it could be even worse in November’s general election.
Pittsburgh’s Black leaders say they see a difference in George Floyd protests, the Post-Gazette reports.
PennLive profiles the young activists who are powering the current protests.
Students in the East Penn district could end up attending classes on different days — based on their last names, the Morning Call reports.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:


The pandemic created a backlog of criminal cases in Philly that could be tough to reduce, WHYY-FM reports.
The U.S. Army will finally remove Confederate names from its bases, NYMag’s Intelligencer reports.
Talking Points Memo goes deep on the militarization of American police forces and how that’s reflected a country that’s been in a constant state of war since 2001.

What Goes On.
The House and Senate both gavel in at 11 a.m.
Time TBD: Daily COVID-19 briefing/Wolf event TBA

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to longtime Friend O’The BlogMelissa Walters, of Pittsburgh, and Drew Murren, of Ceisler Advocacy, both of whom celebrate today. Congratulations, and enjoy the day, friends.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s some new music from Run the Jewels, it’s  “Yankee and the Brave (ep. 4).

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
The Hockey Diversity Alliance 
says it wants to be ‘more than a box that’s checked off,’ the Hockey News reports.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.