Tension with police in Philadelphia has been at a boiling point since two of its officers shot a Black man in a preventable killing captured on video earlier this week. It was the latest installment in a veritable timeline of terror perpetrated by the Philadelphia Police Department, which has a substantial history of brutality, corruption and overall malfeasance.
Walter Wallace Jr. was reportedly suffering from a mental health episode when police responded with lethal force instead of trying to make sure the 20-year-old father got the help he needed on that fateful Monday afternoon. The Philadelphia Inquirer later reported that the police were well aware that Wallace suffered from mental illness since officers had been called to his home multiple times, including two different times on Monday before the third time resulted in the controversial shooting death that critics say was easily preventable. Video footage of the shooting showed that Wallace, who had a knife in his hand when he was shot, did not appear to be close enough to the officers to pose a mortal threat when they fired at least 12 shots at him.
As if that wasn’t ba enough, coverage of the fallout and subsequent citywide protests revealed Wednesday that a group of Philadelphia police officers encountered an SUV in the hours after Wallace was shot in an instance of suspected police brutality.
“Baton-wielding officers swarming the vehicle, smashing its windows, yanking its driver and a passenger from the car, throwing them to the ground, and then pulling a toddler from the backseat,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Wednesday about the incident that was also recorded on video by a bystander. It was only after the report was published that the Philadelphia Police Department announced it was launching an investigation into the incident with the SUV. However, the department stopped short of providing missing context for the police violence that put a toddler’s life in jeopardy. According to the Inquirer, cops refused to say “what prompted the attack on the vehicle, the identity of the driver, if charges were filed, and what happened to the child.”
While the above two instances of Philadelphia police terror are recent and seemingly not connected to one another, they are far from isolated incidents and fall right in one with what has seemingly become a tradition on the City of Brotherly Love’s police force. And it’s not just brutality and corruption, either, as racial profiling has proven all but impossible to stop in Philadelphia, too.
To be sure, there are “bad apples” everywhere, as the news cycle during this unfortunate calendar year has repeatedly confirmed. But the killing of Wallace has further exposed the Philadelphia Police Department as seemingly being on a brutal and corrupt par with the notorious likes of the departments in New York City and Los Angeles despite the ongoing calls for police reform amid nationwide protests against brutality and racism.
Keep reading to find a reverse chronological ordered timeline of terror launched by officers working for the Philadelphia Police Department.
1. 2020: Philly cops charged for brutalizing George Floyd protestersSource:Getty
At least two Philadelphia police officers were charged this past summer for their alleged roles in brutalizing people protesting George Floyd‘s death even though the situation didn’t merit the use of any weapons.
“Officer Richard Paul Nicoletti is charged with one count of possession of an instrument of crime and three counts each of simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, and official oppression all stemming from a June 1 Black Lives Matter protest, where a large number of demonstrators blocked traffic on the I-676,” CNN reported at the time.
In addition, Matthew Sinkiewicz, who was a sergeant with the city’s SEPTA transit system, was “charged with two counts each of aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, unsworn falsifying, and official oppression” for “allegedly repeatedly beating two protesters with a baton, requiring them to seek hospital treatment,” the Inquirer reported. Sinkiewicz was fired in July.
2. 2020: Cops violently remove Black man from bus for not wearing a mask
The group American Priority posted a viral clip recorded in Philadelphia in April at the onset of the pandemic. The video shows a Black passenger being carried off the bus by multiple police officers and then being violently slammed against the bus.
“These police are throwing this man off of a SEPTA bus because he refused to wear a mask,” American Priority wrote when it tweeted the video. “That is the ‘crime’ that he committed.”
While wearing masks is required in public transit systems, the harshest punishments have typically been fines, not physical violence. The passenger was neither arrested nor charged.
3. 2020: Dozens of Philadelphia cops suspended for violent and racist social media posts
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross — who has since resigned in shame for not acting quickly enough on sexual harassment reforms — condemned the actions of 72 police officers who were guilty of Facebook posts that contained violence, racism, Islamophobia and other messages cops shouldn’t be publicly espousing. Just 17 of the 72 were slated for a 30-day suspension, and out of that group 13 were expected to be fired altogether.
One Facebook post made by Philadelphia Captain George Mullen was a meme featuring the image of the late Sammy Davis Jr. holding a microphone and pointing to the viewer. The words cross the image stated: “Instead Of Hands Up Don’t Shoot How About Pull Your Pants Up Don’t Loot.”
4. 2019: Philadelphia police chief outed over shirt mocking Rodney King
Then-acting Philly Police Commissioner Christine M. Coulter — Ross’ brief successor — had a photo surface showing her wearing a t-shirt that mocked the beating of Rodney King, the Black motorist beaten nearly to death by Los Angeles cops in 1991 in what may have been the first viral video of police brutality.
Three years later, in 1994, Coulter took a photo wearing a t-shirt with the message printed on it, “L.A.P.D We Treat You Like a King,” which was a well-known pro-police slogan that made light of police brutality at the hands of the famously corrupt Los Angeles Police Department.
5. 2018 Starbucks arrests
At least six Philadelphia police officers arrested two Black men because they were sitting down in a Starbucks store waiting for a business partner to arrive before placing their order. The incident was captured on a now-viral cellphone video. The two men were not being disruptive or confrontational but were nevertheless placed in handcuffs for trespassing.
While the Starbucks CEO apologized for the racist barista who called police in the first place, Commissioner Richard Ross offered a tone-deaf defense of his officers.
6. 2018: Blackface scandal
Philadelphia Police Officer Hung Nguyen posted a photo of himself on Facebook in blackface, something we only know about because Black Lives Matter activist Asa Khalif tweeted about it. “I’m asking Commissioner Richard Ross to immediately fire the officer,” Khalif tweeted at the time. It’s unclear if that request was ever honored.
7. 2018: Philadelphia police terrify an 11-year-old so much that he vomitedSource:Getty
A Black mother and father had the police called on them at a Philadelphia movie theater after they demanded a refund for conditions that made it hard to hear the film. While they got their refund, the theater’s manager blocked them from returning inside the theater to get their three sons and two of their sons’ friends before they left.
The father told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he had spoken with his 11-year-old son about the potential dangers of interactions with police. He said his son grew frightened and ran to the bathroom to vomit. “He was worried that I was going to get hurt,” the father said.
The incident was captured on a cellphone video that you can watch by clicking here.
8. 2018: Officer charged with murder
Ryan Pownall, who is white, was charged with first-degree murder for killing David Jones, a Black man who was shot in the back twice. Pownall pulled over Jones, who was on a dirt bike, for an alleged traffic violation, authorities said. The officer’s gun jammed when he attempted to shoot Jones after a confrontation. Surveillance video showed Jones dropping his own gun and running away. That’s when Pownall opened fire.
It was only the second time in almost two decades that an on-duty Philadelphia cop was charged for killing a suspect.
The charges were later reduced to third-degree murder.
Pownall’s case has been stalled “while the D.A.’s Office waits to learn whether an appeals court ruling will grant a prosecutor’s motion to alter jury instructions about when officers are permitted to use deadly force,” the Inquirer reported in June. Until then, Pownall remains free on bond.
9. 2018: Father violently gunned down by police was unarmed, newly engaged
Jeffrey Dennis, a 36-year-old father of three, was killed by a Philadelphia police officer after cops tried to serve a warrant during a drug probe. Six undercover officers surrounded Dennis’ vehicle and ordered him to get out of the car. After a confrontation, one of the officers shot and killed Dennis, who had no prior convictions, was employed as a maintenance worker for Tastykake and was preparing for marriage before the shooting cut his life short.
A few months later, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced that officer Richard Nicoletti would not face any criminal charges.
10. 2017: Philadelphia Black cops accuse white supervisors of racist practicesSource:Getty
The terror inflicted by the Philadelphia Police Department isn’t only on the public.
Six Black officers claimed their white supervisors were using racist language and practices. One complaint alleged two white supervisors would often call African Americans “scum” and refer to police killings of Black people as “thinning the herd.” The Black officers also said they believe the two narcotics bureau inspectors should be reprimanded for allowing one of their colleagues to park his truck, which is donned in Confederate flags, on city property.
Considering a Guardian report from this past summer about how white supremacists and militias have infiltrated police departments across the country, the Black officers’ claims didn’t seem far-fetched in the least.
11. 2015: Video of Philadelphia police beating man during arrest sparks investigation
Tyree Carroll was beaten and kicked as he lay face down during a brutal arrest that was captured on video. The 22-year-old was also stunned by a Taser in the incident that involved at least a dozen officers. In the disturbing video, Carroll can be heard screaming for his grandmother as he’s finally subdued. Police officers can also be heard yelling demands to stun Carroll with a Taser.
12. 2014: FBI arrests Philadelphia police narcotics officers in corruption probeSource:Getty
The FBI arrested six Philadelphia Police narcotics officers as part of a corruption probe into the department. The group is accused of stealing more than $500,000 in cash, drugs,and stolen property over multiple years on the force.
13. 2013: Racial profiling stop and frisk
Cops targeted two Black men through the racist and unconstitutional stop-and-frisk tactic in an episode of racial profiling that was recorded on film. A 16-minute video shows two Philadelphia police officers questioning the men while using foul language and threats of physical violence.
While asking for identification from the men, the police officers repeatedly use aggressive language and berated the men for coming to their neighborhood, accusing them of dealing drugs, telling them to “go back to New Jersey” and claiming they “weaken the country.”
It was later revealed that one of the officers involved was part of a previous incident involving the apparent harassment of youth playing basketball.
14. 2012: Philly cop punches woman for allegedly throwing water on him
A brief video clip shows a group of officers at the Puerto Rican Day Parade in Philadelphia handcuffing a man against a car when someone outside of the frame throws water at them. An unidentified woman near the officers, who looks as if she was also hit by the water, is then seen walking away from the cops when one of them turns and decks her square in the jaw. She drops to the ground and other officers rush and cuff her.
15. 2011: Philly reaches settlement in ‘stop and frisk’ suit
The settlement stems from a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union alleging that the searches were violating the rights of Blacks and Latinos who had done nothing wrong. The ACLU sued on behalf of eight men – including a state lawmaker – it says were subjected to illegal searches since the city started using “stop and frisk,” a controversial element of Mayor Michael Nutter’s 2007 mayoral campaign.
In the lawsuit, the ACLU cited city data showing that 253,333 pedestrians were stopped in 2009, compared with 102,319 in 2005. More than 70 percent of the people stopped were Black and only 8.4 percent of the total stops led to an arrest, the ACLU said.
16. 2010: Marc Lamont Hill Sues Philly Police For HarassmentSource:Getty
The $1 million lawsuit filed by Marc Lamont Hill, then a Columbia University professor, claimed that during a traffic stop an officer “yanked Hill out of the car by his arm, pushed his fist into his back and asked Hill if he ‘could afford’ his vehicle.” Hill claims the cops told him to “get out of this neighborhood and go home” without citing him.
17. 1985: The MOVE Philadelphia bombingSource:Getty
On May 13, 1985, the Philadelphia Police Department dropped a bomb a row house occupied by MOVE, a Black liberation group that preached revolution, which scared authorities. The bomb, which was inexplicably used in an attempt to evict the group’s members, unleashed a relentless fire that eventually burned down 61 houses, killed 11 people (including five children) and injured dozens others.