Who are the police and court officers working to make Philadelphia a better city for all of us? Nominate one for Integrity Icon today. By Sara Hoenes
In recent weeks, many Americans have experienced an awakening around police violence and systemic racism. In response to the killing of George Floyd, people have taken to the streets in droves to protest—but in Philadelphia, this is no new issue.
Philly has a long history of police violence and lack of accountability. There have been years of violence against unarmed Black men, and a recent investigation found that between 2011 and 2019, a loophole in the police arbitration system overturned disciplinary rulings on over 70 percent of cases—a process that costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year.
This lack of accountability does more than undermine equity and justice. It creates a publicly accepted norm of violence and corruption.
In the past, efforts toward police reform have done little to hold officers accountable for their actions. In part, this is because of the political weight of police unions, and the reluctance of investigators, prosecutors and juries to question police officers’ decision-making; and the legal rights police officers have to use force.
While the world is full of ideas we should steal, from ethical policing; to reinventing police advisory commissions; to police as guardians not warriors; these ideas still require experienced, informed and accountable leadership in order to work.
As our news feeds have been flooded with scenes of police violence during peaceful demonstrations, we’ve also seen acts of kindness and accountability from police officers. Let’s stop to ask who these exemplary police officers are and how we can elevate their capacity to advocate for change from within the system and among their colleagues.
There’s Gregory Holston, who served as the executive director of the nonprofit, POWER before joining the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office as the senior advisor on advocacy and policy. He has committed his life to criminal justice reform, advocating for marginalized communities, equitable funding for Philadelphia public schools, gun violence prevention, and police accountability.
Or, Antonio Bennet, a Black police officer who started a mentorship program for young people of color to enter the police force in an effort to build stronger relationships between the police and the communities they serve.
Meanwhile, as we learned last week from the long-delayed release of a study on Philly’s Municipal Courts, even those who work in the system believe the courts are rife with nepotism and discrimination. That’s bad for all of us.
Instead, we need more—and to hear more about—people like Tanya Covington, known as the “jury duty lady,” who makes the call to serve actually fun with homemade baked goods, and karaoke. When’s the last time we acknowledged those public safety and judicial officers who work hard to make life easier and better for everyday citizens?
Now’s our chance. In March, The Philadelphia Citizen, along with Accountability Lab, WURD and other partners launched Integrity Icon Philadelphia—a contest to “name and fame” honest civil servants. At a time when racial injustice has hit a breaking point, let’s find accountable leaders with innovative ideas.
Integrity Icon Philadelphia is not just a campaign to celebrate public officials with integrity, it’s also designed to increase the Icons’ credibility, expand their networks, and build their capacity to make the changes necessary to hold our institutions accountable.
Effective leaders within government understand the importance of accountability and work to solve problems for citizens. Let’s support the policewomen and men with integrity, the court officers with our best interests at heart, that can put in place the reforms we need. Nominate an Integrity Icon today.
This article was originally published in The Philadelphia Citizen.