Even when America is not as focused on it as it should be, the killing of Black people by police officers continues. One of the latest is the fatal shooting of David Jones in Philadelphia—a city with a long legacy of police violence against Black bodies.
Jones, 30, was reportedly shot in the back by a police officer Ryan Pownall on June 8. Pownall, who was transporting people to the Special Victim Unit, allegedly stopped Jones for riding his dirt bike “in a reckless manner.”
According to the police version of what transpired, the officer stopped and frisked Jones, and during a pat down felt a weapon in the man’s waistband. The Philadelphia Police Department claims Jones reached for his gun after Pownall ordered him not to do it. There was a struggle, Pownall’s gun jammed, then the officer shot Jones, as the police version of the tragedy goes.
Jones, who was shot in the back and buttocks, was pronounced dead at Temple University Hospital. Part of the incident was caught on surveillance video, showing the officer shooting a fleeing Black man. Police Commissioner Richard Ross said reviewing the video “gives me pause.” He added, “I did watch the video, and clearly one of the shots was taken while the male was running away,” Ross told NBC1o news. “There’s no doubt about that.”
Another, conflicting version of what transpired was reported by Christopher “Flood the Drummer” Norris, a Philadelphia journalist who has been on the case and has been trying to get to the bottom of what really happened, asking hard questions and seeking answers. An eyewitness named Terrance F.—who was in the police vehicle with two of his children to report the abduction of his son—claimed that Pownall got out of the police cruiser and threatened to take Jones’ bike. Terrance claims Pownall frisked Jones and put a gun to his head. Terrance says he told Jones not to resist the officer. The two men tussled, and Jones’s gun fell to the ground. Jones freed himself from Pownall’s grasp and ran, and the officer Tasered him, according to Terrance. Then, Pownall threw his Taser down, picked up his gun and shot Jones in the back. A gun was found on the ground near the police car, not with Jones.
This was not the first time that Officer Pownall, now placed on administrative leave, shot a Black man in the back. Seven years ago, Pownall shot Carnell Williams-Carney, now 36, in the back while the man was running away, leaving him paralyzed and in a wheelchair. Williams-Carney filed a federal lawsuit against the police and lost. The case now has renewed attention following the killing of David Jones. It is known that police officers with a history of abuse rarely are disciplined, much less fired for their misconduct or criminality, allowing them to become repeat offenders as they presumably “protect and serve” and uphold the law.
Responding to the fatal shooting of Jones, who had recently married, his family and Black Lives Matter demand justice, and demand that elected officials be held accountable and actually give a damn about the case. Philly Black activists are taking no prisoners, and have disrupted the meetings and events of elected officials to ensure they do not forget David Jones. For example, Asa Khalif of Black Lives Matter Movement Pennsylvania Chapter, and Issac Gardner of the Justice for David Jones Coalition interrupted a press conference with former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and Philadelphia City Councilman Mark Squilla:
The activists similarly shut down a meeting held by Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke:
“They should be held accountable,” said Khalif to Frankie Darcell on WDAS-FM. “A Black man is dead and shot by a police officer with a history of violence towards Black and brown people. And If you choose not to speak up and use your office to say something, at least to say something to the family, then we will shut you down in the spirit of Black Lives Matter.”
Khalif said that those who receive Black votes in Philly cannot hide in the shadows in City Hall. “So we cannot let another murder take place where elected officials are silent. We had a former mayor, Michael Nutter, never even mention the name of Brandon Tate Brown, who was murdered two and a half years ago by the same [police] district that shot our dear brother David Jones,” he added. Brown, 26, was shot in the back of the head by police after being stopped for driving with his headlights off. The officers were not charged in the case, and Seth Williams, the Black district attorney at the time who refused to indict them, has since been pleaded guilty in a federal bribery case and is soon headed to prison.
Philadelphia has a long history of police corruption, racism, misconduct and brutality, including the years of framing of innocent Black men by cops–even sending some to death row—and the use of excessive and deadly force against Black suspects in custody. The vicious reign of police commissioner-turned-Mayor Frank Rizzo, the raid on the Black Panther Party, and the PPD’s war on MOVE, which led to an aerial bombing and destruction of a Black neighborhood in West Philly, provide the backdrop.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice released a report on the PPD which found an “undercurrent of significant strife” between the police and the community. The DOJ also cited “serious deficiencies in the department’s use of force policies and training, including a failure to maintain a certified field training program; deficient, inconsistent supervision and operational control of officer-involved shooting investigations and crime scenes; and oversight and accountability practices in need of improvement, the most notable being the need for the department to fully cooperate with the Police Advisory Commission.” The report noted that 15 percent of police shootings involve unarmed suspects.
Black Lives Matter Movement Pennsylvania Chapter keeps the momentum going with its involvement in this past week’s #PhillyIsCharlottesville rally, and by vowing to tear down the statue of Frank Rizzo that stands in Center City Philadelphia–at a time when Confederate monuments and symbols of racism are coming down.
In the meantime, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has taken over the investigation of the David Jones case, and Philadelphians want to know why another Black man was shot in the back like an animal.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove.