Monday, January 7, 2008

Fascism comes to South Philly ...

... not with a bang, but with a whimper.

When I visited Tunisia in 2000, you couldn't walk into any shop or see many homes not sporting an official portrait of Tunisian President(-for-Life) Ben Ali like this one to the left. You could get them anywhere. You didn't technically have to put one up, but life was obviously easier if you did. Don't go feeling too superior to the Tunisians just yet; Ben Ali's people have been in power since the 1980s, mere punters compared to the Democrats' 50+ years of continuous control of Philadelphia.

This isn't the sort of thing I think about every day, but events today conspired to make me wonder how much better off we are and will be than your average Tunisian.

Today, the same day as new Mayor Michael Nutter's inauguration, every residence in my neighborhood had a thin plastic I PROUDLY SUPPORT THE PHILADELPHIA POLICE sign placed on its stoop. (I should say every white household in my immediate
neighborhood; taking a walk a couple of blocks to the west, an overwhelmingly African-American neighborhood, we find that no such signs have been distributed.) Some houses have had them jammed into the screen door facing outward, and many South Philly residents will come home surprised to find that they've been emptily "supporting" the police in an involuntary fashion all day. Many folks who were home have already placed the signs in their windows from the inside. One would hope that Americans could go about their business without having to make a decision as to whether or not to outwardly, publicly "support the police" (whatever that means) before they even take their jackets off, coming home from work on a dreary Monday.
The "proudly" bit did make me chuckle a bit; I suppose GIVEN THE AVAILABLE OPTIONS, I HESITANTLY SUPPORT THE PHILADELPHIA POLICE, although more realistic, was decided against at some point. Of course, we all "support the police" in a literal sense. We all pay for the police, like it or not, and you can't support more literally than that. Police are one of the few socialist programs that Americans haven't been programmed to reject like a baboon liver

Beyond that, I imagine that the overwhelming majority of Philadelphians hope that the police are generally
successful in doing their jobs, provided that rights aren't being violated, the general public isn't entrapped (perhaps with a half-naked woman) and evidence goes unplanted. Certainly the average Philadelphian doesn't want to see police shot; one would hope that would be generally understood without the government distributing signs to get a head count.

Apparently you either put the sign up, or you support the criminal element. Maybe you are the criminal element. Who knows, you might be a cop killer. In Tunisia, everyone walks around with identity papers. One of the more interesting features of the identity papers is that they contain a record of every police encounter you ever had, including times you weren't actually convicted of anything. Many Tunisian men would show me their identity papers upon first meeting them, pointing to the "clean" area devoid of police scribbling in order to establish trust. Of course, this is the
precise opposite of real trust, more of a society driven by dystopian paranoia, of the government and one's fellow man. I imagine that Tunisians who do get stopped by the police have trouble getting jobs in the tourist industry. Ironically I'll bet that lack of employability helps push some into crime. No doubt many Philadelphians who support "stop and frisk" would support ID papers. After all, if you have nothing to hide... (it so happens that a blog reader sent a great piece on the "nothing to hide" argument just yesterday.)

Need I mention that political Tunisians without ID papers can get sent to jail on trumped up charges? Note that one of the accusations of the unfortunate Mr.
Boukhdhir in that link is that he was "insulting" toward an official. Come now, Mr. Boukhdhir! You should support the police.

The fine print on the signs states that they were courtesy of
Democratic State Representative Bill Keller, and displayed the phone number for his Philadelphia office. This particular Bill Keller is not this fascist, instead this one. I called his office this afternoon to ask if the taxpayers of Pennsylvania paid for the signs. I was very polite. Keller's staff person became immediately irate and demanded to know who I was exactly and what my business was. I stated that I was a constituent and taxpayer and that I had an absolute right to know for what projects our money was being used. She replied that Keller paid for the signs.

This could have meant out of "his" pocket (from a six-figure salary that we pay for), it could also
mean, I would think, from discretionary state monies that are hard to track dependent upon how we phrase things. (Funny thing about these "fiscal conservatives," always encouraging you not to lean too hard on the government... while Keller himself has run for re-election seven times! I guess jobs in the private sector aren't that rosy after all. "I INVOLUNTARILY SUPPORT BILL KELLER".)

I then asked why the State office's phone number was on the signs if this was a private project. Seems to me that if Keller the State Rep wants to do this with his money, the phone number has to be Keller the Private Citizen's phone, not one for which we're paying. I pointed out that the conversation we were having alone was costing the PA taxpayer money. The Keller staffer became very angry with me and yelled that if I didn't want to, I didn't have to put the sign up. I retorted that I would now be making a public, conscious statement that I would not put the sign up, the central problem with the government distributing propaganda and a problem I didn't have yesterday. The Philadelphia office hung up on me after I explained that the signs reminded me of the sort I've seen in Third World dictatorships. I never had the opportunity to ask who distributed the signs overnight, and who paid for that.

Keller's Harrisburg office was nicer; they told me that "Keller paid for the signs," but in a non-committal way that makes me wonder what that means exactly. No one at either office could tell me what "support the police" means exactly. I forgot to ask why Mr. Keller hasn't been distributing signs supporting firefighters, teachers or social workers. By his own logic he must not support those people. Harrisburg supposedly had no idea who distributed the signs (they have the legit excuse of not being on the ground here) and wouldn't say why today was the day. I think I know the latter...

Keller happens to be the sponsor of a
crazy, plainly unconstituional statewide bill intended to aid Nutter's already outrageous "stop and frisk" plan for the city. In Nutter's plan the police can jack you up for having a bulging pocket, or "shifting around," or (my personal favorite) leaving your jacket unzipped on a cold day. The rationale being if you're zipped, you're concealing; if you're not concealing anything and loosen your jacket you're preparing to fire; either way you're a criminal scumbag to whom the Bill of Rights does not apply. Serves you right for wearing a jacket in a bad neighborhood. Or for being outside. After all, you don't have to wear a jacket, you choose to, right?

Keller's bill would require prisoners being released from having served felony convictions to sign a "waiver" of their Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure as a condition of parole.

Among the interesting features of this bill are the fact that any house
or car these people happen to be in would become Bill of Rights-free zones. If Uncle Bob comes home from the pen for Thanksgiving dinner, the whole family is risking a cavity search. It strikes me that there wouldn't even be any way to determine who was covered by this insanity until after the accused is stopped and searched by police; best of luck to you in explaining to officers on the street that the law doesn't apply to you because you're not on parole. I'm nearing 40 and white so I don't expect to have problems... at least if I stay away from protests, right? Keep my nose clean. Don't make waves. Support the police.

Apparently we have nothing better to spend our state money on than plastic fascist signs. SCHIP still doesn't give many sick kids health insurance, LIHEAP runs out of money every year, and this jackass is distributing Newspeak 1984 signs with state cash. At the very least someone who wanted to "support the police" might kick money in for a raise for incoming cops, or to the Police Athletic League.

I don't think that it's an accident that these signs appeared in my neighborhood the same day that Nutter was being sworn in. Keller is clearly an authoritarian who has fetishized power and considers yielding rights and "supporting the police" to be the same thing. It appears his other big project is to make the Port of Philadelphia a primary center for shipping weapons for the Iraq war. Keller also has helped use our money to aid the oil industry, a group that seems to need the help more than sick kids and cold senior citizens. Keller appears, I might add, to be on the take from South Philly thug John Dougherty, a man the Philadelphia Police and D.A.'s office might scrutinize if they were really interested in fighting crime. Has Keller yet met an authority figure he doesn't serve? He really has no business in government, at least not in the United States, not until he reads and understands the constitution.

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1 comment:

David said...

Chris, I repeatedly wonder why you don't a) either write a book about Philadelphia politics, or b) start your own news blog, or c) do both.

This was a great piece. Nicely done.

David Z.