By Shannon McDonald

Cops: Black and Blue

Cops: Black and Blue
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Bill Thrasher is an officer in North Philadelphia’s 22nd Police District. His blonde hair is youthful, unaltered by sun or life. His eyes are identical to the sky blue of the uniform shirt he wears beneath his jacket and bulletproof vest. The faint traces of acne on his jaw reveal his age before he offers it: 24. But Thrasher’s age is irrelevant in the 22nd district, where the majority of people he deals with are younger than he is. The district’s relationship with the community is nothing short of volatile.


“People hate us here,” Thrasher says of the community’s distaste for police officers. “They spit at us.”


The region’s rocky history with the Philadelphia Police Department is no secret among the rest of city. Shootouts, police brutality and tales of each group’s hate for one another flood the media and plague Philadelphia’s reputation. There are two sides to the conflict, and Thrasher isn’t ashamed of his.


“Of the 19 or 20 homicides so far this year, six were in Strawberry Mansion,” he says. “Most were in this district.”


In the 22nd district, burglaries and drug busts are the norm, but homicides are equally prevalent. As Thrasher circles the neighborhoods, he points out recent homicide scenes.


A man was shot 19 times on the 2400 block of Nicholas Street. At 2100 Newkirk St., a 17-year-old boy was shot several times by a friend for $120. On Myrtlewood Street, a man died from multiple gunshot wounds in the stomach.


“People in this neighborhood don’t care about each other,” Thrasher says matter of factly. “They’ll shoot each other for drugs, for money, for bulls—. All they care about is their reputation. They want to look tough.”


It’s hard to tell if Thrasher’s logic is a defense mechanism for his attitude toward the neighborhood, or the sentiment of an entire district.


The stories of police brutality are easier to believe when Thrasher and his colleagues interact. “TNS” is the code they use for many of their cases. When Thrasher arrives at Arthur’s Dog House on Germantown Avenue in response to a midday call about an escalating argument; the cook greets him by saying the fighting couple has already left.


“Nobody died,” he tells her dismissively.


Thrasher’s lieutenant drives by as Thrashers slides back into the seat of his car.


“TNS,” Thrasher tells his superior. “Typical N—– S—.”


Comments like this between two white police officers in a predominantly black section of the city only add fuel to the fire. So does Thrasher’s implication that because most of the houses in the 22nd district belong to the Housing Authority, there are more instances of violent crime.


But Thrasher insists the reasons behind the prejudices are not as superficial as they appear. Take for instance, the gang at 12th Street and Hunting Park Avenue.


“They call themselves “12th and Hunt ‘Em Down,” Thrasher says with a laugh. “They’re into some heavy s—, and most of them are younger than me.”


As he drives back toward Strawberry Mansion, Thrasher continues to point out crime scenes, eager to prove his words and actions stem from 18 months of exposure to black-on-black crime, and not from racism.


He stops on the 3000 block of Page Street, a quiet block whose houses are painted every color imaginable. The car idles in front of 3039, whose inhabitants, Thrasher says, are a constant thorn in the district’s side. This is not the quiet block the residents described it at less than a week ago.


Tyrone, a lifelong resident of Page Street, said the block is mostly quiet and full of seniors. The memorial on the corner, he explained, is for Mike, a friendly guy who died after a fight with another neighbor.


Today, the memorial is gone and Thrasher laughs hard at Tyron’s account of the story.


Michael Lane, 52, the father of 15 and with four prior arrests, was shot in the back of the head by his daughter’s boyfriend, James Moses, 50 years old, who had five prior arrests and a known associate of other homicide suspects.


Thrasher’s innocent eyes and baby face do little to redeem his harsh language.

“These people are f—— disgusting. It’s like they’re animals.”


Tyrone isn’t patrolling the street today, like he was last week. He is not here to explain his statements surrounding Lane’s death. Thrasher’s tone is matter of fact when he says Tyrone was probably involved in Lane’s death or some other crime he’s trying to escape.


Twenty minutes later, Thrasher and his lieutenant are defending their profession again when a mother demands to know why her two sons are consistently pulled over and arrested. The lieutenant says it’s a result of her sons’ long history with the police. The mother argues that it’s because her family is black.


The animosity between the black communities in North Philadelphia and the 22nd police district is cyclical. Crime begets more police, begets crime, and so on, but it is unclear when and where the cycle began.


Thrasher and another rookie officer exchange a wink and the TNS call after a traffic stop as Thrasher turns in the direction of headquarters to file paperwork.


“I’m not racist,” he says. “I work with black people everyday. They have jobs, they support their families, [and] they’re good people. Most of the people who live in this area are bad people. And they happen to be black.”

26 Responses to Cops: Black and Blue

  1. Stewie May 1, 2009 at 5:46 am

    Thanks excellent post.

  2. David Carter May 22, 2009 at 3:49 am

    Thanks for sharing these useful information.

    very nice post.

  3. Roxy July 3, 2009 at 2:34 am

    Absolutely amazing what qualifies for journalism these days- the number of assumptions made by Ms. McDonald that render her summary of speculative conclusions. I must confess, that having been a Philosophy major does predispostion (or worse yet- biased!) my search for clear articles with correct citations and unbiased documentation.
    In summary, there were no conclusive or logical arguments presented in this collection; rather a hypothetical “documentation” more akin to an interior decorator- One question I do have is, when can we hear the audio from this ‘ride-along’.. Since so many phrases seem to be taken out of context-backed only by the author’s interpretation of what they must have implied.
    AS a final note- I’ve lived in the 15th district (Northeast Phila) and I could say the same , ie that some behave like animals. The majority of whom are white. Does that make me a racist as well?
    Thank You for any Questions Answered-
    A Penn Graduate

  4. Roxy July 3, 2009 at 2:45 am

    “These people are f—— disgusting. It’s like they’re animals.”
    ???? Where in the world do you get that he meant “black people” ie African Americans in this statement? The previous statement refers to the person or persons WHO WOULD SHOOT an african american man and father in the back of his head???Why in the world would you find it racist when the officer is referering to those WHO WOULD SHOOT an innocent african american man and father ??? Please help me to understand that.

  5. diane July 8, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    what a sad state of affairs when phillys finest talk and think like this officer lets pray he is one of a kind

  6. Roxy July 13, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    Dear Diane (et al)-
    What a sad state of affairs when not one of you can address, comment, oppose (or -god forbid, agree with)any of my contrary statement of identifying egregious errors made in this piece of (sic) journalism. Irregardless of statements the officer made- therewas only one (1)one phrase which could be identified (ie,TNS).
    Otherwise, all other accusations on the part of this ‘writer’ are speculative, assumed, preclusionary, and taken out of context. What I find mysterious is why does this journalist not question the officer upon statements she seems to find offensive? There is absolutely no evidence of that at all-
    If the rest of you continue to post nothing but emotives without reading the actual article & STUDYING IT.. that is the saddest state of all. Learn how to analyze a statement. Ascertain between assumption & facts. What is a value judgement vs a document of what is plainly seen? Typically interviews are filled with a back & forth conversation BETWEEN BOTH PARTIES.. A summary tends to include the writer’s own interpretation of the interview..It used to be the case that writer’s would have to back up their arguements with tangible proof, whether it be in citations, quotes, or direct inquiry.
    Consequently I beseech any Temple University Professor or Adjunct to explain why the focal submission was selected and/or deemed qualified for publication (or grading, if the case may be)?

  7. Roxy July 23, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    I’m a little disheartened that no one’s even posted a backlash to my arguement since July 8; nor has any other comment. I would like to clarify that the officer in question was unprofessional in utilizing such an acronym that’s easily misinterpreted. Just plain wrong. However, as I stated previously, there is no indication the Ms. McDonald ever questioned his statements (if she had ,that interactionwas conveniently left out of the story).Still no posting of “intervew” audio.. So what still remains is a 1-sided sketch..not news at all; rather a real person who’s been deemed guilty without defense. And it would seem natural to question someone one their statements-especialy if they seemed offensive. Nothing of this kind was evidenced in this piece.
    Ms. McDonald, we are all waiting for your response. Thank you.

  8. charper July 24, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    Roxy,
    I am the professor who edited and approved the story in question. I have more than 20 years of experience in the media at the Associated Press, Newsweek and ABC News.
    First, what questions should have been asked of the police officer other than whether he considered his comments and his attitude racist? Those were the questions asked and answered.
    Second, no audio exists of the interview. It is exceedingly rare that audio is made of a police ride-along. Audio is used when an interview is expected to be confrontational or legal issues may arise.
    Those seem to be your pertinent questions. I hope you find the answers useful.
    Informatively, as a result of this story, we had reports from various neighborhoods about police and community relations. You will find a list of the stories on the main page.
    Professor Christopher Harper

  9. Alpha Master Reseller September 3, 2009 at 8:33 am

    Thank you for your help!

  10. Hosting September 4, 2009 at 2:58 am

    A SUPPORTED BY THE DEVELOPER TOOLS? It was interesting. You seem very knowledgeable in ypour field.

  11. Roxy September 6, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    A belated ‘Hello’ to Hon. Prof. Charper, Thank you Sir for the brief overview of your experience with the A.P., Newsweek and ABC News. That is indeed impressive.
    However sir, with all due respect, i’d like to stay focused on the point of discussion; that being Ms. McDonald’s essay and a seeming lack of 2-way conversation between she and the officer in question. I have pointed out particular examples in my previous posting, so I will not bore you with repeating those.
    In summary, my focus is not necessarily to prove the officer innocent .In light of the severity of such accusations, it is INHERENTLY NECESSARY that all information is provided and that no statements are taken out of context.Consequently while Ms. McDonald’s submission certainly qualifies as a ‘story’, the exacting nature of a journalistic piece demands more. You have stated that no recording of the conversation has been made, if nothing else that statement should have been made in the article, or at least that this was Ms. McDonald’s “IMPRESSION” of what the officer meant to say. It was correct for the PPD to investigate the accusations implied , one-sided as they may be. But to promote such a graded essay as proof-in-itself is a degradation of investigative journalism.
    ** P.S. and now for something completely different..
    It is said that Ernest Hemingway sometimes used the below method for generating his stories. Use six words only for a classified ad. His first example was , “Baby shoes. For sale. Never used”. Here is my attempt : Found. Mechanical bull.Singing. Trade only.
    Honorable Professor & students.. please post your own.. challenge me. 😉

  12. charper September 7, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    Roxy,
    It is very rare that tape recorders are used for a written article. In fact, I rarely used one when I worked for the Associated Press and Newsweek. I encourage my students not to depend on a tape recorder. Why? Tape recordings take far too long to transcribe. Batteries can run out. Microphones can work poorly. That’s why good notes are essential for a written article.
    Tape recordings are obviously useful for a radio report, but they have limited use for a video report with the lone exception of checking for specific sound bites before editing. All the best,
    Christopher Harper

  13. Roxy September 10, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    Hon. Associate Prof Charper,
    Thank you for the reply regarding standard protocol using recording devices. This is helpful in understanding the lack of a formidable conversation in the “interview”. It is unfortunately too easy to surmise the student journalist formulated questions beforehand , and proceeded to do just that- pose her questions only without listening to the stories or context behind the officer’s replies. A controversial “fill-in-the-blanks” is a wonderful tactic for distracting a reader from lack of substance. Mission accomplished.
    Therefore I conclude your student’s submission indicates a high degree of success of one on the path as an associated writer for the “World News “, “Enquirer”, or another weekly print found in supermarkets everywhere. I’m hoping this term that the the original assignment will be extended to interview the alien lifeforms that police our solar system- despite a problematic ride-along option. All the news that’s fit to print. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi! ***Roxy***

  14. charper September 10, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    Hon. Roxy,
    The journalist did not formulate questions in advance that were particularly noteworthy. A ride-along with a police officer is usually pretty standard stuff. It wasn’t a gotcha interview. Her intent was to obtain a police officer’s view of the neighborhood he policed. Perhaps you should know that the journalist in question has eight police officers in her family. I am sorry that you think that journalistic standards were not fulfilled to your satisfaction. I have tried to explain what was done as well as I can. I guess reasonable people can agree to disagree. Just so you know, I have worked with police officers in at least 10 cities and military officers in various countries. I have a great respect for what they do. All the best.

  15. Ivy September 14, 2009 at 6:30 am

    Whatever the argument, it makes me sad reading this.

  16. Roxy September 15, 2009 at 2:08 am

    Hon. Prof C. Harper,
    Absolutely we can agree to disagree.I do appreciate your tenacity in replies. Thank you for lending further background information regarding the journalist and your own experience with what would ascertain would lend a favourable bias to the article. I do not know why this was divulged, unless it was an effort to change my opinion- which is intiguing on another level altogther. If not married please contact at match.com/38-27-34. Otherwise, family & friends should be actively dscouraged from involving themselves in lucid divergence. In summary I do not have a problem with Ms. McDonald’s interview. If her conclusions had been reached in an empirical manner – I would have no say in questioning the judgement. Specificly- the method/tols used..not the subject.

    Sic Transit Gloria Mundi- Roxy

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