Ben Mannes: Media silence as murders surge in Philly

In Philadelphia, a combination of large scale protests and Covid-19 are dominating local media coverage. However, a similar surge — in Philadelphia’s violent crime rate — has seen secondary, if any, news coverage by the mainstream outlets. The fourth estate’s failure to hold the local political class to account as so many lives are lost is glaring, despite an official response to this year’s crimewave that can be best described as handwringing.

Over the 4th of July holiday weekend, there were 34 shootings in the City of Brotherly Love, resulting in seven deaths — including a six-year old child killed with an unsecured, possibly illegal weapon in a Holmsburg house known for drug activity, and a 15-year-old Overbrook teen struck down in a triple shooting while riding his bicycle.

In fact, if the city’s murder rate through July 1st holds for the year, we would see the most killings in decades. Murders are up double-digits in 2020 versus 2019, itself a year that saw more killings than any year since 2017.

Shouldn’t this epidemic of murders merit front page news coverage, every day? 

The city’s response has not bolstered confidence in its ability to get crime under control. This is largely because the Mayor, District Attorney and Police Commissioner have painted themselves into a “woke corner,” tying their own hands — and leaving neighborhoods to fend for themselves — with mixed messaging and hands-off policing and prosecution policies. 

If the city’s murder rate through July 1st holds for the year, we would see the most killings in decades. Shouldn’t this epidemic of murders merit front page news coverage, every day?

Like other cities, Philadelphia was quick to strike an authoritarian tone on Covid-19 lockdowns, while simultaneously curbing arrests and releasing prisoners from jails. Then, when a wave of unlawful protests gripped the nation after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the city failed to not only enforce Covid-19 policies, but laws ranging from obstruction of traffic to violent felonies as protests raged on. 

Local outlets like the Inquirer seem more determined in cheerleading the decision to move the Columbus statue out of Marconi plaza than addressing the murders that are being visited upon real Philadelphians in epidemic numbers. 

The double-standard in enforcement and coverage, added to the possibly unlawful transfers and terminations of police officials during protests, has resulted in an emboldened criminal element in a city that already had one of the highest crime rates of any major jurisdiction in the nation.

READ — D’Andrea: The ACLU goes for broke, and PA residents dodge a bullet

Commissioner Danielle Outlaw’s response to the latest wave of violence? “It’s very chilling what’s been happening over the past few weeks.” No promises to do better, and no advocacy for the police’s role to solve all of this. 

Via twitter, District Attorney Larry Krasner stated that “this weekend’s gun violence…underscores the need for non-traditional methods to address this serious public health & safety issue, including trauma communities experience after these tragedies.” Seemingly, Krasner would rather be the city’s top social healer than District Attorney. He continued to blame national trends, and not his own unwillingness to prosecute serious crimes: “sadly, the spike in gun violence is a national phenomenon.”

Mayor Jim Kenney issued a statement saying that gun violence was, along with Covid-19, a “crisis plaguing our city.”

This predictable language from senior officials does acknowledge the fact that Philadelphians — most of whom are African American — are being murdered in record numbers, but does nothing to consider their own progressive law enforcement policies that are coinciding with the surge. They blame the instrument, or point to a “national trend.”

In doing this, it’s obvious that the city’s elected leaders have no intention to take responsibility for this crisis and attempt to solve it; doing so would mean clearing more murders and empowering the police to solve crimes, which is politically unpopular with their vocal, progressive base — the same small fringe of Democrats who pushed Larry Krasner out of his crowded DA primary and into office in the first place.

The media has been complicit in their coverage and language, making pains to emphasis the “peaceful” protests while purposefully failing to address whether these protests were “lawful” or “unlawful” (i.e., was it permitted and within the guidelines of its permit?), and slamming the police with repeated coverage for clearing protestors off of the Vine Street Expressway. The result? Another march down Vine Street last weekend, this time with no repercussions. How progressive for people who need to get to work.

Likewise, it is clear where the sympathies of the media lie when murders and shootings are labeled “gun crime” instead of “violent crime.” It becomes easier to look at national trends and the NRA, and look away from the failures of the Mayor, District Attorney and Police Commissioner to go after the criminals who terrorize many Philadelphia neighborhoods. 

Local outlets like the Inquirer seem more determined in cheerleading the decision to move the Columbus statue out of Marconi plaza than addressing the murders that are being visited upon real Philadelphians in epidemic numbers. 

Sadly, accountability is not coming from the media, nor from any semblance of a political opposition in Philadelphia. When Commissioner Outlaw pointed to a larger strategy to combat violence that includes reassessing how police respond to certain calls — adding that her department will be working closely with other law enforcement agencies, including federal counterparts – nobody asked how this would occur. This question is important as Outlaw’s boss, Mayor Kenney, has actually restricted cooperation with federal law enforcement, specifically with regards to ICE detainers.

More alarmingly, Outlaw has sidelined her most effective units in dealing with this type of crime; sources in the Highway Patrol and Narcotics Strike Force units claim that they have orders to avoid the robust policing tactics that gained them national recognition for effectiveness.

Instead, Kenney and Outlaw are emphasizing “community involvement and the police department’s relationship with the community” as vital in addressing this issue. This talking point sounds nice, but the murder rate speaks for itself — and reflects directly on Kenney, Krasner and Outlaw.

Outlaw continues to blame this crime wave on “challenges” related to the pandemic and “weeks of protests in the city.” As she explained, “we’ve been shifting and shuffling our resources which might, in the end, decrease visibility in some areas where we’ve been more prominent, but we’ll get there. I think communication is key”.

Communication with whom? The people gunning down their neighbors?

Her sworn duty is to enforce the law. It’s her responsibility to reject unlawful directives from the Mayor and District Attorney. 

The citizens of Philadelphia are witnessing a clear double standard when their Police Department and District Attorney’s Office allow roads to be seized and property damaged without arrest, but come out in full force against law enforcement officials who use force, or worse, community members who feel they have to arm themselves in the protection of their neighborhoods. 

While the local media obsessed over the citizens in Fishtown and South Philadelphia — unrefined and thuggish as some were — coming together to protect the streets, monuments and even police districts, they failed to ask the more important question as to why the police weren’t doing it for them in the first place. This slight of hand by many reporters and editors was deliberate.

Some local officials have attempted to provide oversight and solutions, such as Northeast State Rep. Martina White (R-Philadelphia), who formally introduced a recall amendment to the state constitution, or U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, who has stepped in to prosecute where Larry Krasner has pulled back.

Whether it’s state or federal oversight, the law-abiding citizens of Philadelphia eagerly await a proven plan to deploy our nation’s 4th largest police department effectively, get violent crime under control, and ultimately to save lives.

But until we have a media establishment that pays attention to the issues people are experiencing — a surge in real homicides, and not just what statues exist where journalists care to look — we should not expect much more from our leadership than what we have now: shuffling statues around, and ignoring the blood on the streets. 

A. Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP, CESP, is a Subject Matter Expert in Security & Criminal Justice Reform based on his own experiences on both sides the criminal justice system. He has served as a federal and municipal law enforcement officer and was the former Director, Office of Investigations with the American Board of Internal Medicine. @PublicSafetySME

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17 thoughts on “Ben Mannes: Media silence as murders surge in Philly”

  1. The Philadelphia Inquirer is an anti-American propaganda rag; yellow journalism. A huge part of the problem; not even a speck of a part of the solution. Anyone connected with that vile publication should hang their head in shame while still breathing the air of the United States of America.

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