Gangs in Blue
Yesterday I watched Gangs in Blue, and tears were running down my face. My tears were not only because as privileged as I am, I know someone in Philadelphia who has been a victim of 1) police brutality, and 2) ongoing police harassment. They also fell because what I witnessed in the film did not particularly surprise me. Everyone in this city knows about the police. But somehow, nothing changes. The friend, Angel, who was brutalized, feels utterly helpless, and fearful in his own neighborhood, all because his skin is the wrong color (brown – Angel is Puerto Rican). In the case of brutality, he was driving three blocks to check on his elderly mother when a police cruiser signaled him to stop. He pulled over immediately. He was asked to get out of the car and he did. The policeman moved toward him and shoved him. Angel put his arms up to protect himself. That movement was deemed resistance. He was cuffed, punched, and brought into the unlit, un-video-taped back door of the station. There he was beaten by three police officers, while another looked on. He was beaten so badly that his partner Barbara, at that point fretting at home at the length of his absence, first heard of him again via a call from Hahnemann Hospital asking her to retrieve him. The judge threw out that case, angering the police further. A few weeks later, Angel and a friend were cleaning up the trash in the alley that construction workers had left rather rudely. It began to rain hard, and Angel waved his friend into Barbara’s car, which doesn’t run but sits idle in the alley. Sitting in the car, the two friends opened a six-pack of beer. The police pulled up behind, and proceeded to arrest Angel and charge him with Driving Under the Influence because he was sitting in the driver’s seat. Angel tried to reason with them, saying, “The keys aren’t in the car, and even if they were, this car doesn’t run!” The cops didn’t care. Again, the case was eventually thrown out. A few weeks after this, Angel was underneath a friend’s car helping him, as the friend leaned under the hood. A police cruiser pulled up and yelled to the friend with his head under the hood, “You, get out here! … Oh, we thought you were that other guy.” I can only imagine how frightened Angel, feet away, must have felt. Though the judges threw out all the charges against him, Angel and Barbara were forced to spend significant sums on legal representation, and fear of harassment is now simply a part of Angel’s life. Sadly, this tale is one of the least horrendous. How can our city not face this problem? It’s an easy answer: racism.