By Tim Cwiek
PHILADELPHIA — The Greater Philadelphia chapter of Gay Officers Action League has sent a letter to District Attorney Larry Krasner expressing concern over a display of photographs honoring fallen police officers that was temporarily covered with a banner.
The Wall of Remembrance, dedicated in 2009, honors Philadelphia police officers killed in the line of duty. It was located in a conference room on the mezzanine level of the D.A.’s Office in Center City but recently was moved to a different location within the building.
Prior to its relocation, the wall was temporarily covered with a banner featuring the office’s logo, “DAO.” Published reports indicate it was covered because a grand jury convened in the room where the wall formerly was housed, but PGN has been unable to confirm that account.
“As LGBTQ identifying officers in Philadelphia law enforcement, we regularly face attempts to erase both our identities and our service to the people,” states GOAL’s Feb 24 letter to Krasner. “We take any attempt to dismiss the dishonor your office brought to our fallen heroes as an insult to all officers from all communities.”
A photo of the covered wall surfaced on social media last month and quickly went viral. The Fraternal Order of Police criticized the D.A.’s Office, along with many other entities and individuals.
On Feb. 19, Krasner spokesperson Jane Roh tweeted, in part: “The emergency of the pandemic has required different spaces in the city to be used for specialized purposes. We are legally required to cover the Wall of Remembrance when this room is used for certain purposes. We follow the law.”
On Feb. 22, at an unrelated press conference, Krasner was asked if he regretted the wall being covered. “I do not regret doing what is legally required,” Krasner replied. “I do think it’s unfortunate that there are some people who see the Wall of Remembrance as a political tool.”
Officer Jo Mason, a member of GOAL’s executive board, urged Krasner to apologize for covering the wall. “There is no reason not to admit the hurt that this action caused, apologize for it and pledge to do better,” Mason told PGN. “All Mr. Krasner has to say is, ‘I’m sorry for any feelings that were hurt. I’m sorry for any pain that was caused. We’ll do better in the future.’ Instead, we’re accused of playing politics.”
Mason, who is nonbinary, said they personally knew about a dozen officers killed in the line of duty since becoming an officer in 2002. “It’s a very real hurt,” they added.
Sgt. Nicholas Tees, another GOAL executive board member, echoed Mason’s sentiments.
“We as GOAL don’t take this as a political tool,” Tees told PGN. “We view this as respect and honor to those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice. Mr. Krasner is avoiding the issue. He’s just saying he has to follow the law. Well, tell us what law you’re referring to. People would have more respect if there was an honest answer. Mr. Krasner needs to explain what he’s doing. People need to understand what he’s doing and why.”
Tees also expressed concern that Krasner isn’t sensitive to crime victims. “It appears that he’s not sensitive to victims of crimes, including law enforcement officers who have sacrificed their life,” Tees added.
Moreover, Tees expressed hope that Krasner will respond to GOAL’s letter and meet with the group. “We’re optimistic there will be some resolution and that we’ll hear back from Mr. Krasner,” Tees concluded. “Ideally, GOAL would like to have an ongoing conversation with the gentleman about this issue and others.”
A spokesperson for Krasner had no comment on whether he would meet with GOAL.
Sgt. Eric Gripp, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department, issued this statement: “The Wall of Remembrance at the DA’s Office is a solemn memorial to some of the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our city. The officers depicted in that memorial deserve to be shown the utmost care and respect. And having it placed in a location where it might need to be covered is hurtful to survivors. We are grateful that the District Attorney agreed to move the Wall of Remembrance to a different space within the office where it is visible but will not have to be covered due to any legal requirement.”
In a follow-up email, Gripp said the Wall has been moved to a room where the DA’s Office holds press conferences.
Jonathan D. Lovitz, an LGBT advocate, agreed with GOAL’s letter.
“Yes, I fully agree with the team at GOAL that an explanation and apology is a first step — followed by a conversation with GOAL and the DA about improving inclusion and awareness in city law enforcement and judicial systems,” Lovitz said, in an email. “It’s encouraging to hear that [Police] Commissioner [Danielle] Outlaw is so supportive of GOAL — and the elevation of diversity, equity, and inclusive community input as we work to fight racism and violence throughout our city. We all have a role to play!”
Tim Cwiek is a reporter for the Philadelphia Gay News, where this story first appeared.