Darrin Manning And The Kinder, Gentler Philadelphia Police Department

Philadelphia's Police Department has come a long way since the days of Frank Rizzo or and the MOVE fire bombing, but perhaps not far enough. As The Inquirer reports:

Darrin Manning, 16, says his mind was on the game when he got off the subway at the corner of Broad Street and Girard Avenue with a dozen teammates in uniform and suddenly found himself in handcuffs.

Manning admits that one of his teammates may have said something smart to the cop they had noticed staring them down. So when the cop approached, they ran. Scared, Manning ran a little, too. But then he stopped.

...

Manning says he was roughed up, placed in handcuffs that the officer hit him with and that during a pat-down, a female officer pulled his genitals so hard one of his testicles ruptured.

Unsurprisingly, the police report claims the straight-A student with no disciplinary history was wearing a ski mask and that he hit the police three times before he was subdued, although the report also says "No injuries sustained to police." Funny how that works: the suspect starts the fight and lands all the punches, but he ends up in emergency surgery and the police officer doesn't have any injuries at all. The old "he fell" excuse for a black eye story comes to mind - I saw that in a police report (from another state) just yesterday, only the individual didn't have a black eye, he lost it entirely.

This wasn’t how 2014 was supposed to start for the Philadelphia Police Department. On January 1, the Department adopted sweeping reforms for interrogations, including the mandatory videotaping of interrogations by the Homicide Unit, something that has been standard across the country for years. To their credit, the Department worked with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Pennsylvania Innocence Project to develop real, genuine policies that would prevent concerns (and abuses) that arose in the past. (Side note: if you're looking for a charity to give to this year, why not the Pennsylvania Innocence Project? I know their director well, she's phenomenal, and just last year they brought an innocent man home after 15 years in prison.)

But the Manning incident puts the harsh reality of police interactions in Philadelphia back into the spotlight. It’s easy for people who spend all their time in the suburbs and never go near Broad Street and Girard Avenue (I drive by there often; come April, there will be a man in a Statue of Liberty costume trying to get people to do their taxes at a local accounting office) to ask why a 16 year was running from the police, but two truths are undeniable: (1) he's 16, and 16 year olds are famously non-compliant and (2) he didn't do anything wrong.

We've come so far in accepting a de facto police state, in which cops can stop you and search you for any reason and the government can read all of your email without a warrant, that we often don't stop to what we expect out of our Constitution anyway. Darrin had every right to be where he was and, yes, every right to run away - the officer had no reason to believe he was committing a crime, not even if he was wearing a ski mask while running (something all runners do when it gets cold enough - and it was a low of 4 °F that day, setting a new record), and no reason to stop him, and certainly no reason to search them. “Probable cause” means you can’t be violently searched and hurt without an officer at least having some reason to believe you committed a crime, and some reason to use the force to restrain you.

I'd blame the Philadelphia Police Department, but I think that would leave one of the responsible parties off the hook: the United States Supreme Court. There are plenty of good officers on the force who always try to do right, and some bad officers who don’t care, but in the end, good or bad, of them are given their limitations by the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has, over the past generation, taken such a dismal view of civil rights that it's little wonder police officers don't take them seriously.

For example, if a prosecutor hides exculpatory evidence and leaves a man wrongfully in jail for 18 years, that's okay. Each and every day, federal courts across the country apply Supreme Court precedent to dismiss civil rights lawsuits, and even more so since the Iqbal decision in 2009. I’m a member of the National Police Accountability Project, and we have an internal email listserv, and it can be at times downright depressing to see the types of situations that members talk about, and the way courts sometimes handle them. We can and should do better.

Darrin Manning deserved better, he deserved to have his constitutional rights respected. While we should certainly criticize the Philadelphia police for violating those rights, and for the excessive force used in violating those rights, let’s not forget why they feel like they have so much leeway in the first place.

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